‘Drop libel suits against Daphne Caruana Galizia,’ CoE to Government

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic has written to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat urging that any pending defamation suits against the family of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia are dropped.

At the time of her death, Caruana Galizia was facing over 40 civil and criminal defamation suits. Some 30 civil defamation claims continue posthumously while the criminal defamation suits were closed.

Mijatovic also urged the Maltese authorities to repeal the provisions which allow the passing of defamation cases to heirs saying that this puts journalists and their families at risk and has a chilling effect on investigative journalism in particular.

Mijatović observed that that the situation raises several issues of great concern not only to the Caruana Galizia family, but also to the protection of media freedom and, more broadly, to the rule of law in Malta.

Many were lodged by public officials including yourself…’

The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner observed that many of the civil suits were lodged by public officials including the prime minister himself. She added that it is not only perceived as an intimidation of the family but also raises questions regarding the Maltese authorities’ commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds to justice.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat replied that he has already stated that he would be ready to drop the libel case if the Caruana Galizia. Muscat had taken he witness stand and asked the heirs of slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to admit wrongdoing in an article that alleged his family owned the third offshore Panamanian company Egrant.

Muscat referred to the findings of the magisterial inquest into Egrant by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, which did not find any evidence connecting the Prime Minister or any member of his family with Egrant. In the main conclusions published, the Magistrate had also said that by means of a rogatory leter, Jacqueline Alexander had declared that the signature on the declaration of trust does not belong to her. Alexander who was responsible for some 17,500 companies and worked for the notorious firm Mossack Fonesca, had her signature appear on the declaration of trust of the Egrant company, however she had declared that the signature on the trust was not hers.

The main conclusions of the report, which amount to some 3% of the “voluminous” inquiry report were published in July 2018. However the full report, which is not accessible to the heirs, remained unpublished to date.

READ: Muscat willing to drop Caruana Galizia libel case if heirs accept Egrant inquiry findings

The family reiterated that it will not concede to extortion by our public servant.

“Our position on not accepting blackmail will never change,” the Caruana Galizia family said.

In their reply they stated that they do not have access to the whole inquiry and therefore do not have access to the testimony given by Daphne Caruana Galizia, the testimony given by Maria Efimova; the testimony given by Jacqueline Alexander and whether she confirmed or denied signing a trust document naming the plaintiff Michelle Muscat as the company’s ultimate beneficial owner; testimony given by Karl Cini and Brian Tonna about the holder of bearer share certificates representing 99% of the equity in Egrant Inc. and in whose name they were held; and the reports by the forensic accountants appointed by magistrate Aaron Bugeja to examine and analyse the operational database, accounts and archives of Pilatus Bank Ltd.

Muscat told the Human Rights Commissioner that his government enacted the Media and Defamation Act following lengthy consultations both at local and international level, particularly with the OSCE.

He added that the issue of an action in libel continuing against the heirs of a deceased journalist who would have accepted the inheritance was not raised as an issue in the professional evaluations of the OSCE preceding the adoption of the legislative act.

According to the advice he has received, the abolition of a civil action without compensation upon the death of a defendant in libel would raise issues relating to the right to a fair trial among other things.

Muscat asked the office of the Commissioner to engage with the government to identify whether there is a common European approach on the matters which were raised in her letter.