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Updated | Caruana Galizia cries foul as Cardona secures €46,000 garnishee on four libels

Court accepts request for €46,000 garnishee on blogger sued for defamation by Chris Cardona for alleging he was seen inside German brothel

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella
8 February 2017, 3:07pm
Last updated on 8 February 2017, 9:38pm
Daphne Caruana Galizia has claimed a source saw Chris Cardona inside a brothel, in Velbert, Germany.
Daphne Caruana Galizia has claimed a source saw Chris Cardona inside a brothel, in Velbert, Germany.
The Court of Magistrates has issued a garnishee order of €46,000 against Malta Independent columnist and blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, on the request of Labour minister Chris Cardona who has filed at least three defamation cases against her.

Cardona was alleged by Caruana Galizia to have been witnessed inside a German brothel, in Velbert, outside Essen where he was on government business. Cardona has denied the allegation, which is as yet unverified.

The garnishee is based on the maximum damages liable on the defamation case, which stands at €11,500. The effect of the precautionary warrants on her assets means her bank accounts will remain frozen to that amount until the case is concluded – usually a process that can take years in the Maltese courts.

READ MORE Minister says hotel bill proves he was not at German brothel

In all, four libels were filed, two each by Cardona and Joe Gerada, his policy officer implicated in the allegations. The suits concern two instalments posted by the blogger on her personal website. Cardona has said he will file more libel suits against the PN’s media and the party over the allegations.

In a statement, Caruana Galizia insisted that the two men were seen inside the Velbert club FKK Acapulco “at close range by another Maltese person.” 

But she also said that if Cardona files another 10 cases for some 10 blogposts she has uploaded, the minister could “freeze [her] personal assets in the present and future, for the duration of the case, for €118,650 and carry on in that fashion.”

The blogger said the precautionary warrant in a libel suit was “a heavy penalty” for a journalist to pay before the case is even heard.

In the past, MaltaToday was also threatened by a heavy garnishee order by Malta's tuna ranching industry in various libel suits over reports on the industry and discrepancies on export figures.

“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,” Caruana Galizia said.

“The system as it stands is ripe for abuse by politicians who try to silence the journalists who expose them, so that their wrongdoing 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.”

Although Caruana Galizia’s allegation that the minister was inside the brothel rests on what a source has told her, the blogger is insisting that the precautionary warrants are intended at harassing her and create a “chilling effect” on what she writes.

“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.”

Institute of Maltese Journalists demands end to warrant

The Institute of Maltese Journalists said the minister had to reconsider his request for a precautionary warrant, especially given his public role and to send a message to the press that it was free to carry out its duty.

The IGM also appealed that the cases are heard immediately. “Freezing a journalist’s assets is exaggerated and against the freedom of the press and expression in a free democracy.”

The IGM pointed out how the press was in danger from both criminal libel and garnishee orders. It also said members from both government and Opposition sides had been on the attack against journalists, and that it had requested meetings with the PL, the PN and the government to discuss the matter further.

PN reaction

The Nationalist Party said Cardona’s action was an “extreme action” on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and a clear threat to democracy in our country.

“Cardona has shown he has already lost heart in winning out on his argument alone. Had he been confident of winning the case, he would not have not resorted to this extreme action, but wait for the court sentence,” the PN said.

The case has yet to commence in a court of law.

The PN also claimed now that there were “various witnesses” who had seen Cardona and his consultant inside the brothel.

“This is truly hatchet-style politics against a journalist who has revealed scandals of the most corrupt government in our political history… Joseph Muscat is ready to silence those who are ready to criticise him. It’s nothing but a threat to democracy.”

Minister's Statement

Economy minister Chris Cardona said that “he believes in the freedom of expression” and reassured journalists that they are “free to carry out their work” without fear while adding that they should be encouraged to continue scrutinizing current events.

“Daphne Caruana Galizia is a blogger that publishes unfounded lies, intended to break people,” read a statement, adding that the stories published by Caruana Galizia affect not only those who are in the public sphere, but also their families. “People from various political background have suffered because of her lies. This is the reason for the garnishee order.”

According to the statement, those defending Caruana Galizia are doing a disservice to “serious journalism” and the freedom of expression. Moreover, it said that while Cardona would be opening a number of other libel cases against the Nationalist Party’s media, he would not be filing a garnishee order.

matthew_vella
Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.