A former permanent secretary within the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs and his wife have won €4,000 in libel damages against l-orizzont over a series of articles featuring the couple published over a three-month span shortly after the 2013 general election.
Christopher Ciantar and his wife Eleanor filed the libel suit over allegations of nepotism made in the series of six articles where readers were told that at the time when Mr Ciantar, a former WasteServ Director, had held the post of Permanent Secretary to then Minister George Pullicino, his wife had enjoyed great benefits as a civil servant.
It was reported that Ms Ciantar, who had joined the public sector as typist back in 1991, and had gradually progressed to the post of principal in 2009, had been assigned the role of manager at ‘Naturalment Malti’, a post allegedly tailor-made for her within the same ministry as her husband.
Other allegations spoke of some €12,000 earned by Ms Ciantar by way of overtime payments. It was also claimed that the permanent secretary’s wife had been awarded a €400 scholarship to follow a Maltese proof reading course at University and also regularly travelled abroad.
Following termination of her employment after the 2013 election, Ms Ciantar moved to a managerial post within the Fisheries Control, a position which she obtained upon due interview procedure.
During the libel proceedings, the only proof brought forward by the newspaper was an affidavit, several parliamentary questions on the issue and a breakdown of overtime payments, in respect of Ms Ciantar.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, observed that when asked about the matter in Parliament, former Minister Leo Brincat, who had taken over the portfolio held by Minister Pullicino, had declared that no action was to be taken against the Ciantar spouses and that “the only advice given to him was that the matter was to end there.”
However, the Labour Party media did not inform its readership about this development, the court observed.
Evidence presented in court showed that when Mr Ciantar was removed from office in October 2013, his wife had secured a three-year contract as manager at Fisheries Control solely on the basis of her competence.
The magistrate said the claims in the articles were spurred by a sense of jealousy and rivalry which hindered the progress of country in a rapidly evolving world.
Although public servants were subject to wider criticism than private individuals, journalists were to ensure that reported facts were true, backed by sufficient evidence, which in this case was missing, the court concluded, declaring the articles defamatory and ordering the newspaper to pay €4,000 in damages to the couple.
Spouses Ciantar were assisted by Dr Ian Spiteri Bailey.