Uproar during a hearing in a libel suit instituted by minister Owen Bonnici against Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi caused a court sitting to come to an abrupt end on Wednesday.
The Nationalist MP was expected to continue where he left off in another fiery exchange in June when he had taken the witness stand to explain why he had referred to Bonnici as a “liar” and a "criminal" in a Facebook comment that sparked the libel proceedings.
But Wednesday's hearing ended on a tumultuous note after Azzopardi told the court that the minister had "blood on his hands" for the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, prompting angry rebuttals from Bonnici's side.
The libel case began after Azzopardi posted a comment on social media in December 2019, the day after the Opposition had obtained a full copy of the Egrant report drawn up by former magistrate Aaron Bugeja.
That report had laid bare the “lie” perpetrated by the government of which the minister formed part, that the Egrant affair had precipitated an early election in 2017, Azzopardi had said.
He referred to a press conference by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on July 22, 2018, in which Muscat “clearly insinuated” that former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil was responsible for the Egrant “lie” which, in turn, had precipitated early general elections in 2017.
That narrative was taken up by exponents of the Labour government, including Bonnici, making him “an accomplice in that lie”, Azzopardi said.
On Wednesday, Azzopardi was expected to explain why he had also referred to the minister as a “criminal” in the allegedly defamatory post.
He started off by explaining the background to his post.
Bonnici had praised fellow Minister Konrad Mizzi three times for tendering an apology, “praising Mizzi who was involved in money laundering,” Azzopardi said..
Then Bonnici had also referred to Daphne Caruana Galizia as a “hate blogger.”
Eight months before the journalist’s assassination, the minister had posted a tweet where he referred to Caruana Galizia as a “hate blogger,” repeating that expression in an email exchanged with Tim Owen.
Moreover, during an interview reported on Illum, Bonnici again referred to the journalist as a “hate blogger” when asked to comment about the fact that former minister Chris Cardona had obtained garnishee orders freezing the journalist’s assets pending libel proceedings.
'Blood on his hands'
“So are you implying that he [Bonnici] is somehow responsible for the murder?” the minister’s lawyer, Pawlu Lia asked.
“Yes,” Azzopardi replied, calmly.
“He’s not the only one to say that. Three judges have said so too,” Azzopardi’s lawyer, Joseph Zammit Maempel added, in a clear reference to the conclusions of the independent inquiry into the assassination.
“He has blood on his hands,” Azzopardi went on.
“Shameful! You’re so shameful! You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” Lia rebutted.
“This is the sort of hatred you’re inciting!” went on Lia, as the noisy exchange between him and Azzopardi continued, ignoring the magistrate’s attempts to restore order in the courtroom.
“Vili, vili,” went on Lia, as Azzopardi firmly stood his ground.
“You will not scare me. I’m a victim in this,” Azzopardi hit back.
The shouting match was soon brought to an end as Magistrate Rachel Montebello deferred the case to December and walked out of the courtroom, visibly irritated.
Another sitting, in October last year, was also halted because of shouting in the courtroom.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us