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Spanish magazine pays heavy price for corruption report

(RSF/IFEX) – 3 December 2012 - Reporters Without Borders protests against the conviction of Marta Sibina and Albano Dante, journalists and editors of the magazine CafèAmbLlet.

On 24 October, Sibina and Dante were found guilty of defamation against Josep María Via, health advisor at the Government of Catalonia. Dante and Sibina accused Via, amongst others, of links with corruption. They were sentenced to pay a fine of 10,000 Euros. Josep María Via based his complaint on the video “The biggest robbery in the history of Catalonia”, published on YouTube by the couple, and specifically on the word “robbery”. Of the original sum of 20,000 Euros, the judge considered only half of the complaint and finally condemned the magazine to pay 10,000 Euro. Via, who manages the Hospital del Mar in Barcelona, said he would give the amount to charity.

“We condemn this verdict as a clear limitation of press freedom. In the context of the economic crisis in Catalonia in particular and in Spain in general, it is even more important to investigate what public money is actually spent on,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Such a big fine imposed on Sibina and Dante is likely to create a chilling effect on investigative reporting into corruption cases, which are of obvious public interest.”

After salaries were cut in several hospitals in Catalonia, CaféAmbLlet made public its findings on the scale of corruption in the budgets of the Selva and Maresme public health system districts. After two years of investigations, Sibina and Dante, who run the magazine, published a YouTube video investigating the spending of public money. The report cited high-level state employees of the regional government, which is chaired by Artur Mas. According to the video, the Catalan health system has become a network of companies that are winning tenders through their personal contacts with the politicians in charge.

Sibina and Dante claimed that the firms belonging to Ramon Bagó, former president and member of the Catalonia Health Council, were winning tenders worth millions of Euros. This report prompted proceedings by the Catalan anti-fraud office.

CaféAmbLlet is also facing charges for its investigations into the financial dealings of Xavier Crespo, deputy of the national political party CIU, who was said to have received 15,000 Euros from one of the subsidiaries of the Health Corporation of Maresme and Selva, together with his wife.

Dante and Sibina, who run the magazine alone, are determined to appeal the verdict. “We have demonstrated that we are not talking about isolated cases but that this is a network that is beyond fiscal control,” Dante said. “We showed that this is made possible by the principal parties of Catalonia (CIU and the Socialist Party) and the pressure that they are exerting on all the authorities that should ensure transparency.”

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