The Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has lost the libel case he raised against the PL Justice Minister, Owen Bonnici.
Dr Azzopardi launched the case in January 2017 after Mr Bonnici said he had information showing Azzopardi had met entrepreneur Nazzareno Vassallo regarding the value of land in Qormi upon which the former Löwenbräu brewery sat.
Azzopardi was the parliamentary secretary at the time, dealing with government property. Dr Bonnici claimed that Dr Azzopardi had reassured Vassallo that the value of the land would reached.
It is understood that it was sold at 1990s prices which was €7m less than its actual value.
Azzopardi denied the claim, despite Dr Bonnici stating that his comments were in the public interest and accurate based on testimony given in court by Vassallo.
Magistrate Franscesco Depasquale ruled in favour of Dr Bonnici based on Vassallo’s previous comments. Vassallo was not called to testify in the libel proceedings.
He said that his comments were in line with those presented by the Auditor General’s report which stated that, ‘Although the Minister for Fair Competition, Small Businesses and Consumer Affairs (MFCC) contended that the decision to value the land as at 1990 was not within the remit of the politician, this Office maintains that failure to question the grossly misrepresentative value of the land was a shortcoming in terms of ministerial oversight.’
The report also went further saying, ‘it was the responsibility of the MFCC to safeguard the Government’s interest… it is in this context that the MFCC bears a degree of responsibility for the gross misrepresentation of the value of the land.’
It is also understood that Bonnicis had also derived his information from an investigation carried out by the Malta Independent. The outlet had questioned Tonio Fenech, the then finance Minister about land values.
He is reported to have responded saying, ‘if Zaren Vassallo had come to speak to me, I would have sent him to Jason. If his file had been brought to me, I would have sent it to Jason. But none of these things happened.’