Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took the witness stand on Thursday when he 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.
In court, Muscat was testifying in a libel case he had filed against Caruana Galizia over a blog post written by the journalist in which it was alleged that Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat.
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 However the full report, which is not accessible to the heirs, remained unpublished to date.
The court presided over by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale heard that Muscat was willing to drop the libel case if the heirs of the assassinated journalist declared that they were wrong. The Prime Minister reportedly told the court that he would be content if it was accepted that it was a lie.
Investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated on 16 October 2017 at around 3pm shortly after leaving her family home. The journalist had alleged that Muscat’s wife had opened an offshore company called Egrant to launder proceedings of corruption, as well as alleged that the Panamanian company had received money from Azerbaijan.
Pawlu Lia who sits on the Commission for the Administration of Justice, representing the government and is also the Prime Minister’s personal lawyer asked Muscat what he had to say about the articles. Muscat reportedly replied that after the work done by Magistrate Bugeja there was nothing to the allegations made by the slain journalist. He further told the court that the “massive lie” involved his wife and family, as well as the political stability of the country.
Lia then asked the other party whether they were willing to accept the main conclusions published, asking them to make their position clear. Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel said that Muscat was basing himself on a report that was nobody had seen. Muscat told the court that he had based himself on the main conclusions which were made public.
Muscat told the court that the articles were mentioned in the magisterial inquest, and that his position was “clear” and that it had emerged from what others were saying. Further Muscat elaborated that many details were incorrect. Muscat also noted that there were many contradictions between Caruana Galizia’s testimony and Efimova’s testimony.
Muscat quoted at length from the inquiry conclusions. He then appealed to the other party to accept the offer, saying that they were ready to take a step back if the allegations were withdrawn.
The case continues in March.