Europe

French Court Rules in Chetcuti’s Favor Against Media Group: Criminal Defamation


Echoing prior decisions of various official bodies and professional associations shown the original footage of a secretly filmed meeting, a French court ruled that a 2019 French TV investigation deliberately misquoted Maltese lawyer Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti.

Four years ago, soon after the airing of a deceptively edited episode that portrayed the lawyer as an influence peddler, Chetcuti and his firm, Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates, filed a criminal complaint with French police that triggered a magisterial inquiry into the conduct of the two media executives. The Magistrate soon found material discrepancies between the raw footage and the program aired, finding sufficient evidence of tampering and ordering their criminal prosecution.

Media house resisted court-mandated release of raw footage

In their initial defense, the journalists’ lawyers called for the defendants’ own raw footage not to be admitted in evidence so as not to incriminate them. This approach was “not surprising given an earlier court had already fined the publisher for obstruction of justice for resisting the court order to hand over the footage, indicating bad faith on the part of the publisher,” Chetcuti tells IMI.

The journalists’ defense argued that the defendants never meant to insinuate Chetcuti enjoyed preferential treatment in his citizenship work, other than Chetcuti being a well-connected lawyer, well-versed in Maltese immigration law, who would use his expertise in the interest of his clients. Strangely, the first court accepted their plea and struck off the footage from the acts of the case, effectively depriving the court of Chetcuti’s evidence of what was truly recorded of the meeting.

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Court of Appeal: Journalists misrepresented Chetcuti’s portrayal of Malta program

On Chetcuti’s appeal, however, the court found that the footage was admissible in that it was obtained legally and that it was central to the truth of the case. On examining the footage, the court found a marked difference between the defense’s claims and the allegations made. The court also noted that Chetcuti’s diligent portrayal of the rules of the citizenship program could in no way be misunderstood, ruling that the remarks of the media executives were defamatory and made in bad faith. The court found the two media executives guilty of criminal defamation and imposed a fine and moral damages – altogether amounting to a nominal EUR 6,000 – in favor of Chetcuti and his firm.

Significance of this case for Malta

Already when the episode first aired in September 2019, a close examination of the footage indicated a discrepancy between the underlying recording and the claims dubbed over by the producers. However, matters escalated when Maltese media failed to verify the source and translated the journalist’s voice-over, attributing the claims to Dr Chetcuti, giving the impression that Chetcuti had actually said those words. 

Given Chetcuti’s position in Malta’s investment migration industry, these allegations risked undermining Malta’s consistent record as the benchmark in due diligence for the industry.

Several bodies sprung into action to verify the claims, notably the Regulator of the Individual Investor Programme of Malta who, in November of the same year, concluded a thorough review of all files submitted by Chetcuti Cauchi to the Maltese citizenship agency and found no indication of any preferential treatment.

Chetcuti Cauchi Case Timeline

  • September 2019 – French TV program airs snippets of meeting with Chetcuti without audio, with the commentator’s voice-over added in French and insinuating a wrongful portrayal of the Maltese citizenship program by Chetcuti Cauchi.
  • November 2019 – IIP Regulator publishes ORiip Report on Review of IIP Applications, giving a clean bill of health to Chetcuti Cauchi’s citizenship work and finding the IIP Agency’s conduct impartial.
  • December 2019 – French court fines media executives in obstruction of justice for resisting a court order to hand over the original footage as central evidence of their claims. The court eventually obtains the footage.
  • January 2020 – Chetcuti files a complaint, leading to the CEO of the French media group’s placing under Magisterial Inquiry for criminal defamation. Footage published by Chetcuti Cauchi turns out to be a veritable training manual in best practices, prudent avisory, and the selectiveness of the Malta citizenship program. Chetcuti seen emphatically contradicting suggestions by the French journalist impersonating a potential client.
  • June 2021 – French TV station CEO is arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris.
  • October 2023 – Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris overrules the defense plea of inadmissibility of the footage and, applying the footage, convicts two media executives of criminal defamation in bad faith, imposing fines and damages in favor of Chetcuti and his firm.

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