The court has denied a request by Minister Carmelo Abela to have Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi give evidence first in a libel case that the minister has instituted against the Opposition MP.
Defamation proceedings were filed by the minister last month after Azzopardi claimed in a Facebook post that Abela was one of the two ministers (one sitting and one former) to have been involved in the 2010 HSBC heist.
Azzopardi claimed that Abela had been promised €300,000 for his role, a claim which has vehemently been denied by Abela.
The claims were made within the context of statements made by the accused in the Caruana Galizia murder, that members of the Executive were involved in the heist, as well as other crimes.
This morning it was revealed that brothers Alfred and George Degiorgio, both accused of carrying out the assassination of the journalist, had written to European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders and had named both Abela and former Economy Minister Chris Cardona as being involved in the attempted robbery.
In a sitting before magistrate Rachel Montebello this morning, lawyer Pawlu Lia, acting on behalf of Abela, told the court that he had issues with the official reply to the case filed by Azzopardi’s lawyers since the last sitting.
He accused Azzopardi – who wasn’t present in court this morning – of abusing the court system, insisting that Azzopardi’s claims constituted a statement of fact and not an opinion.
Lovin Malta has not seen a copy of the reply filed by Azzopardi, but it would appear that he invoked the defence of honest opinion.
“To say that this is an opinion in order to avoid being the one to start to give proof is an abuse of procedure,” Lia said. “It’s an issue of fact and he must prove that fact. [Azzopardi] can either say it was a mistake made in the heat of the moment or he can come here and prove it.”
Joe Zammit Maempel, appearing for Azzopardi, pointed out that the other side can’t decide how he responded to a case, adding that it was up to the court to decide whether or not the statement was founded or not.
The court denied the request, arguing that once Abela had filed proceedings, it was up to him to show how he had suffered defamatory harm.
“If the statement isn’t founded, the court, based on the evidence, will hand down its decision,” the magistrate said.
Since Azzopardi made his claims about Abela, it has been revealed that the police have started to investigate the minister.
This follows press reports quoting testimony given by Abela behind closed doors back in 2010, in which he was asked about his access to security equipment which allowed the criminals to gain access into the bank’s high-security areas.
The case will resume in July.
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