The Minister for the Economy and his ‘policy officer’ have frozen my bank accounts: My statement issued to all media

Published: February 8, 2017 at 4:47pm

Statement to all media – 3.30pm, Wednesday 8th February 2017

The Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Minister for the Economy, Christian Cardona, and his EU presidency policy officer, Joseph Gerada, have each filed two civil suits against me (four in all), claiming libel damages for articles that were published on my website, Those articles reported that both men had been in a brothel in Velbert, Germany, last week while on official business representing the government of Malta as guests of the German government, where they were seen at close range by another Maltese person. I have not yet been served with these suits and consequently do not know the specific basis on which the Minister for the Economy and his policy officer have sued.

Today, both men took the exceptional measure of filing precautionary warrants on my assets for the maximum libel damages that would be payable to them should they win all four cases: €11,865 x 4 = €47,460. My bank accounts have consequently been frozen to this amount, and will remain frozen to that amount until the case is concluded many years from now.

The Minister for the Economy has also informed the television station owned by the political party of which he is deputy leader that he plans to file more cases against me and it can be concluded that with each one he files he will also obtain a precautionary warrant for €11,865. This means that if he files another 10 cases for 10 articles or blog-posts, he can freeze my personal assets in the present and future, for the duration of the case, for €118,650 and carry on in that fashion.

The Minister for the Economy and his EU presidency policy officer now have an additional interest in prolonging the case as much as possible: not only are they lying (there is an eyewitness who saw them at the FKK Acapulco) but the longer they drag the case on without a verdict, the longer my bank accounts are frozen to any amount they decide they deserve as a precautionary measure.

While the use of precautionary warrants is not unusual in commercial cases where companies and individuals sue each other for debts claimed, their use in libel suits is unheard of. The use of a precautionary warrant in a libel suit against a journalist means that the journalist is effectively made to pay a heavy penalty before the case even begins to be heard and years before the verdict is reached.

When the precautionary warrant is filed by a politician against a journalist who holds him to scrutiny, the implications for democracy and for the freedom of the press are terrible. There is no initial process of scrutiny for civil libel suits and politicians can sue on the most frivolous basis – one example being when the former deputy leader of the Labour Party, who is now a judge – Toni Abela – sued me for calling him a clown. The system as it stands is ripe for abuse by politicians who try to silence the journalists who expose them, so that their wrong-doing is not exposed. It should be noted here that even if a journalist lays out all the facts and witnesses in an article, there is still nothing to prevent the politician from suing, taking out a precautionary warrant for €11,865, and then dragging the case on for years, purely for malicious reasons.

It should be clear to anyone that the Minister for the Economy and his EU presidency policy officer have not filed precautionary warrants on my assets because they are confident that they will win their cases (rather the opposite), obtain the maximum damages, and that I will not have the resources to pay them, but because they wish to harass me for what I have reported about them, obtain revenge, punish me and – beyond that – also silence others who have picked up the story. The idea is to create what the European Court of Human Rights, in its judgements on freedom of the press matters, calls a “chilling effect”.

The behaviour of Christian Cardona and Joe Gerada demonstrates clearly that they are anything but innocent. Instead of calling a press conference the day after I broke the story, explaining where they were and giving an alibi, they have hidden from the press, made excuses and said that they prefer to clear their name in court rather than do it now in the press. They have frozen my funds not because they are confident that they will win their cases and obtain maximum damages, but because they know that they won’t. Instead they are going to make me pay the price of financial inconvenience for several years until the court reaches its verdict, which means that they will now also prolong the case as much as possible.

The implications of this for my fellow journalists and colleagues in the press are tremendously bad. What the deputy leader of the Labour Party/Economy Minister and his policy officer have done in these cases can be done to any other journalist or editor who is currently facing or will face a libel suit. The negative effect it will have on the freedom of the press is immense, because now it is not only libel suits which journalists have got to be wary of, but also precautionary warrants which freeze their bank accounts until the case is concluded. We should not be surprised that journalism is in severe decline in Malta, that fewer people wish to be journalists, that journalists are afraid of doing their job properly, and that corrupt and abusive politicians are winning the game.

Daphne Caruana Galizia
Tel 00356 9949 3545