Former Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil's busy day at the law courts saw him lose one libel case but win another.
In the first case, a Labour Party press release which referred to embezzlement claims against Dr Busuttil's former driver was deemed to be fair comment and not libellous.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale found that the December 2015 press release, although "harsh", was based on facts that were substantially correct at the time and therefore amounted to fair political comment.
The magistrate rejected the libel suit filed by former Nationalist Party leader Simon Busuttil against Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat and party executive secretary Lydia Abela.
The PL had issued the press release hot on the heels of a declaration by Dr Busuttil in which he asked the Speaker of the House to suspend his driver Anthony Tabone, pending an inquiry into allegations that he had abused of the fuel allowance for Dr Busuttil's car.
In the press release, the Labour Party had seized the opportunity to shoot down an Opposition’s document on good governance which had been published just one day earlier.
“By his own standards Busuttil ought to bear full political responsibility,” for a serious error of judgment when appointing his personal driver, the PL press release argued.
Mr Tabone was later cleared of all allegations by a magisterial inquiry.
Having lost one case, Dr Busuttil then went on to win another, with the former PN leader being awarded €2,000 in damages in a separate defamation suit against Sunday paper ‘It-Torca.’
The case was sparked off by a front page story bearing the title “Unfounded Accusations” published on February 28 last year, which alleged that the then PN leader had not declared his shares in a trust company.
The court, presided over by magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that the allegations carried by the newspaper had been made amidst the Panama political controversy raging at the time.
The then Opposition Leader was heading the campaign against Minister Konrad Mizzi after it had been revealed that the latter was the holder of a secret trust company in Panama, the court observed.
However, the allegations against Dr Busuttil were unfounded since the latter held no shares in The Alphabet Trustee (Nominee) Ltd as claimed by the author of the Torca article, the court continued, pointing out that the story had not been based on true facts.
Nor could the paper attribute the story to a “genuine error within the ambit of investigative journalism” went on the court, declaring that the story had been intended solely to tarnish the reputation of the Opposition Leader who at the time was spearheading the campaign against Minister Konrad Mizzi.
For this reason, the court upheld the libel claim and condemned Josef Caruana,the former acting editor of ‘It-Torca’ to pay €2,000 by way of damages, in addition to costs and interest related to the suit.
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