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Former minister wins €4,000 from libel cases

Court warns against eroding trust in politicians

Former Finance Minister Tonio Fenech has been awarded a total of €4,000 in damages in two libel cases instituted against Glenn Bedingfield, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as PL leader and Dr Stafan Zrinzo Azzopardi as party president.

The dual proceedings concerned a report entitled ‘A favour worth €70,000’ aired on the One TV bulletin in November 2009 and a statement released by the PL Communications Office in May 2011 entitled ‘Ball in PM’s court.’

Both publications revolved around allegations that structural and finishing works on a Balzan villa purchased by Mr Fenech had been done for free by JPM Brothers in return for a favour regarding their projected sale of the Jerma Palace Hotel to Joe Gasan and George Fenech.

Jeffrey and Peter Montebello, entrusted with the task, had contracted the services of Rainbow Turnkey Projects Ltd, owned by Charles Magro. However, a disagreement broke out with the subcontractors, and Mr Magro abandoned the works, seeking the help of former GWU general secretary Tony Zarb.

Mr Zarb, in turn, reported the matter to Edgar Galea Curmi, the personal secretary of then PM Lawrence Gonzi, claiming that Mr Magro was still owed some €20,000 by Mr Fenech.

Our society and democracy in general stand to lose if trust in politicians is eroded further

However, it was later proved that the subcontractor had been paid €30,000 with a further €9,623 in cash. For the outstanding balance of €1,000, he received €905 which he had accepted in full and final settlement. Mr Magro continued to insist that he was still owed €20,000.

The court, presided over by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that Mr Magro had made use of social media to cast the former minister in a negative light. The Montebello brothers had also strongly denied the Jerma story.

The court rejected the plea of fair comment and value judgment put forward by the respondents, who had failed to prove that the allegations were based on facts.

“It is a pity that politicians lend importance to people like Charles Magro who are prepared to tarnish anyone's image, solely for their own financial gain,” the court said.

“Our society and democracy in general stand to lose if trust in politicians is eroded further,” the court observed.

Damages to the tune of €3,000 were awarded from Glenn Bedingfield and €1,000 from PM Muscat and Dr Zrinzo Azzopardi.

Lawyer Peter Fenech appeared for the applicant, and lawyer Pawlu Lia appeared for the respondents.

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