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Geelong real estate agent accuses MMP’s Catalano of defamation

A Geeling real estate agent is accusing Metro Media Publishing’s Antony Catalano of defamation.

Boutique Geelong real estate agent Danny Hayes has slapped Melbourne media mogul Antony Catalano with a Supreme Court writ seeking aggravated damages over a series of public statements made earlier this year as the real estate war in Victoria’s second city ratcheted up.

The writ, lodged yesterday afternoon and obtained by Crikey, alleges Catalano “published” a quote in a February Crikey story, “‘How big are your balls?!’: Fairfax v News in Geelong ad war”, containing a number of damaging statements and imputations about Hayes’ character. The writ says Catalano erroneously claimed Hayes had received secret kickbacks and a diamond ring from News Corp (then News Ltd) to shift his business to the News-owned Geelong Advertiser.

The claims were repeated by Catalano the next day on ABC host Jon Faine’s Mornings program, in an email sent to Geelong agents and in a Catalano “publisher’s message” carried in his rival Weekly Review Greater Geelong.

In a separate action underway in the County Court, the part-Fairfax and Catalano-owned Metro Media Publishing is suing Hayes’ agency Hayeswinckle and related entity Team 3216 for at least $1.4 million for losses and damages, alleging it reneged on a half-a-million-dollar advertising agreement with the Weekly Review and moved its ads to the Addy instead.

Lodged on behalf of Hayes, Hayeswinckle and Team 3216, the defamation writ says Hayes was “gravely inured [sic] in his reputation and feelings, and has suffered distress, embarrassment and humiliation” by the content in the four publications. He is seeking damages, aggravated damages, costs and a “permanent injunction” over the claims.

In the Faine interview transcript, included in the writ, Catalano says he had been told by Hayes about the diamond ring and the “kickback” by Hayes himself. Crikey understands that there were witnesses to the conversation.

The defamation action, if it ends up proceeding to court, could cost Hayes well in excess of $100,000 to launch. Crikey reported earlier this year that News Limited real estate czar Tom Panos had secretly offered to partially pay Hayes’ legal fees. However, it was stated the “confidential” agreement would become null and void if Hayes disclosed the terms of the deal.

Catalano has been summonsed to appear in the Supreme Court on Friday September 27, 2013 at 9.30am. A spokesperson for Metro Media Publishing declined to comment this morning.

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