Court: Journalists misrepresented Chetcuti Cauchi in bad faith

Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi wins Defamation Case in France.

Administration Team | Published on 20 Nov 2023

Jean Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi Lawyer Malta

Chetcuti Cauchi Advocates has won its case before the Court of Criminal Appeal in a defamation case representing senior partner Jean-Philippe Chetcuti and immigration consulting firm CC Advisors Ltd. In a 4-year legal battle against the Chairman of Group M6, a French media group, and against the CEO of the French production company Ligne de Front that produces the investigative series Inquiète Exclusif. The decision comes after a Criminal Enquiry found sufficient evidence for the two executives to be prosecuted for criminal defamation.

Media group M6 resisted court order to hand over the recordings

Back in 2019, the French journalistic production misreported a secretly recorded meeting with immigration consultancy CC Advisors, claiming Chetcuti Cauchi’s success with Malta’s citizenship by investment programme was due to preferential treatment.  Immediately, Chetcuti Cauchi sought a ruling from the French courts for the handing over of the original raw footage by the M6 media house. This was granted in December 2019 and, after resisting the court order, the French court imposed a daily fine of €1,000.  M6 Group eventually handed over the original footage, effectively providing evidence that the allegations made by the production were fabricated.

Chetcuti Cauchi Magisterial Inquiry: Sufficient evidence to prosecute Journalists 

In the same month, Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti, in collaboration with famed French criminal lawyer Henri de Beauregard, Chetcuti Cauchi filed a criminal complaint against Nicolas De Tavernost, Chairman of M6, the French media group that published the defamatory TV programme and against Bernard Berger de la Villardiere, CEO of Ligne De Front, the production company that fabricated the footage.  This led to a Magisterial Inquiry finding sufficient grounds to indict two media executives in criminal proceedings for breach of privacy and criminal defamation.

French media executives indicted in Criminal Court of Paris

In June 2022, the two media executives were arraigned before the Criminal Court of Paris on the complaint of Chetcuti Cauchi. Key evidence presented by Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi: the authentic footage filmed secretly by the defendants’ employees, obtained directly through the French courts, proving their allegations to be false.

Journalists: ‘Do not use the recording against us’

The media executives’ defence requested that the court disallow the footage produced and published by their companies and presented in court against them by Chetcuti.  On this point, the Appeals Court found that the footage was admissible in that it was lawfully obtained by Chetcuti in separate legal proceedings against the journalists and that the recordings constituted the central evidence regarding the remarks made by the journalists in the voice-over added to the footage in French.

Journalists: 'We never insinuated any impropriety' 

Ironically, in their defence, the media executives denied making allegations of wrongdoing and claimed that they only commended Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi on his experience and competence:

The plaintiffs (Chetcuti) are thus presented as highly efficient professionals for their clients, in the absence of being able to appeal rejection decisions, knowing then how to implement other available remedies, of which there is nothing to indicate that they would be illegal.

Nicolas de Tavernost, Groupe M6 denied making any claims of impropriety in his defence submissions but was found guilty on appeal.  In its judgement in respect of Ligne de Front CEO, the Court found that:

in his submissions, Bernard DE LA VILLARDIERE indicated that the rushes demonstrate "nothing except that the law firm is indeed opposed to assisting clients with a criminal history", but that, contrary to what he claims, the remark at issue suggests the opposite.
Paragraph 30, page 12, Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris, 5 Oct, 2023.

Court: ‘Allegations were lacking in evidence’, ‘misrepresentation’

In October 2023, the French Court of Criminal Appeal concluded unequivocally that the journalists’ allegations were “lacking in evidence, detrimental to honour and reputation, and characterised dishonest behaviour publishable under criminal law.”

In this case, the remarks do form part of a discussion of a topic of public interest, … in particular regarding the acquisition of Maltese nationality, but they are not based on a sufficient factual basis, since the rushes submitted to the proceedings, the content and translation of which by the parties claiming damages not being disputed by the defence, show that the remarks 2 and 4 at issue spoken by voice-over are not in line with those made by the persons concerned during the interviews with the journalist.
paragraph 30, page 12, Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris, 5 October, 2023.

Court: Journalists in Bad Faith – Defamation confirmed.

In view of this misrepresentationthe benefit of good faith cannot be allowed, and the managing editor has committed a civil wrong based on public defamation of individuals, a conviction remaining proportionate to the principle of freedom of expression, the limits of which have been exceeded.
paragraph 31, page 12, Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris, 5 Oct, 2023.

The Court also ruled that De La Villardiere, CEO of the production firm Ligne de Front is “liable as an accessory under ordinary law for having knowingly provided the means to commit the offence, the producer being in possession of the rushes, the production of which was ordered and the person concerned being, moreover, the presenter of the report at issue.” (paragraph 34, page 12, Judgement of the Court of Criminal Appeal of Paris, 5 Oct, 2023.)

Finally, the Paris Court of Criminal Appeal found both media captains guilty of criminal defamation in respect of Dr Jean-Philippe Chetcuti Cauchi and CC Advisors Ltd and condemned both journalists to the relative fines and damages.

Prior exonerations of Dr Chetcuti

All professional and regulatory bodies have cleared Dr Chetcuti and hold him in good standing, including the Office of the Regulator of the IIP (November 2019), the IMC (Professional Body) (April 2020), the PCAC (November 2023), and various other professional bodies and regulators, of which Dr Chetcuti is publicly still a member in good standing.

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