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Mayor accused of 'enriching' himself as landlocked Kirkop included in coastal management project

Court underlines importance of serious investigative journalism

Mario Salerno

Mario Salerno

Former Kirkop mayor Mario Salerno has lost a libel case he had instituted against Il-Mument after a magistrate ruled that facts reported by the Sunday newspaper were basically correct.

Mr Salerno had claimed that the article on March 23 was defamatory in his regard.

The article had explained how the former Kirkop mayor had been investigated by the Department for Local Government over allegations that he had received an allegedly irregular sum of around €18,000 after having appointed himself as researcher on an EU-funded project called Litus Go.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale observed that all the facts revealed in the article had actually been true and correct.

The evidence showed the primary role played by Mr Salerno in involving the Kirkop council in the coastal zone management project, even though the village had no coastal boundaries.

The ultimate beneficiaries of this project were not the residents of Kirkop but Mr Salerno, Ranier Busuttil and Antonia Desira Demicoli who as researcher, manager and administrator of the project respectively, pocketed together a total of some €30,860, including travel allowances for the former mayor and the former council secretary, Mr Busuttil.

The court observed that while the Kirkop mayor had sought to justify this project, declaring that “the Maltese had benefited greatly,” the ultimate beneficiaries were not the villagers of Kirkop but the mayor and the persons appointed by him on the project.

The court said the people had a right to be informed about the actions undertaken by their elected representatives under the pretext of serving the best interests of the people when, in actual fact, their only aim was to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens, the court remarked.

This was where investigative journalism played a crucial role, the court added. Citizens had a right to expect such serious investigation from journalists who, in turn, had a right to seek protection before the courts.

“Without such reports and information, citizens would not be able to assess the behaviour of those entrusted with their vote and this would seriously undermine our society,” the court concluded, while rejecting Mr Salerno's claim for libel damages against the newspaper.

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