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Vox MP ordered to pay £20,000 damages for libelling Chief Minister

The Supreme Court has awarded Chief Minister Fabian Picardo £20,000 in damages after he won a defamation suit filed against an MP with the Spanish far-right party Vox.

The court ordered a judgement in default against Agustin Rosety Fernandez de Castro, a retired general who served in the Spanish military before entering politics as the Vox MP for Cadiz.

The Chief Minister sued Mr Rosety in January 2020 over a series of “particularly vociferous…personal attacks” against him published on Twitter by the Vox MP in the preceding months during a general election campaign in Spain.

Lawyers for the Chief Minister had described the tweets as “an aggressive smear campaign” for the Vox MP’s own political gain.

The tone and content of the tweets were in line with Vox’s hardline stance on Gibraltar and its well-known allegations against this community.

Mr Picardo’s lawyers argued the statements contained “false and seriously defamatory” accusations about Chief Minister, including that he was “an enemy of Spain” who facilitated criminal behaviour ranging from smuggling to money laundering.

Mr Rosety had indicated his intention to contest the court’s jurisdiction but failed to file an application in accordance with the court’s rules.

As such, “…he is to be treated as having accepted the court’s jurisdiction,” Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said in a judgement.

Mr Justice Dudley accepted arguments presented by the Chief Minister’s lawyers that the tweets published by Mr Rosety were damaging to Mr Picardo and at odds with steps undertaken by the Gibraltar Government to strengthen Gibraltar’s efforts to tackle cross-border crime.

The court said Mr Picardo’s lawyers had advanced “…substantial evidence to prove the falsity of the allegations.”

The Chief Minister’s lawyers will now seek to have the judgement enforced in Spain, a process for which there is precedent.

In 2013, Mr Picardo successfully sued the right-wing Spanish union Manos Limpias for defamation.

The Supreme Court of Gibraltar awarded Mr Picardo £30,000 in damages and £35,000 in costs, although the final figure was reportedly higher due to accrued interest arising from delays in payment.

That judgement was enforced by a court in Madrid, a decision that Spanish media said contributed to the union’s decision to file for bankruptcy some years later.

The judgement against Manos Limpias was enforced under EU rules at the time.

Those rules apply to the case against Mr Rosety under the terms of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, given the defamatory statements were made prior to the UK and Gibraltar’s departure from the EU.

On Wednesday, Mr Picardo said his lawyers would now seek to enforce the judgement in Spain and that any monies recovered - which will include costs which the court has ordered Mr Rosety to pay but which have yet to be assessed – will be donated to a Gibraltar charity.

“The judgement of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar exposes the untrue and defamatory comments by a member of the Spanish far-right Party Vox for what they are, lies and fabrications, with no basis whatsoever in reality,” Mr Picardo said.

“The Government of Gibraltar for as long as I am Chief Minister of Gibraltar will never allow those who seek to defame us and do us harm to tarnish Gibraltar’s good name or the reputation of the good people of Gibraltar.”

Lewis Baglietto, QC, appeared for Mr Picardo in the case alongside Moshe Levy and Darren Martinez.

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