Muscat: 'Not even my harshest critics ever said... I was involved in Daphne Caruana Galizia's murder'

Joseph Muscat testifies in the libel case he filed against a lawyer who implied the former prime minister blew up Daphne Caruana Galizia

Joseph Muscat had started libel proceedings over a Facebook post that implied he blew up Daphne Caruana Galizia with its author now arguing it was only a metaphor
Joseph Muscat had started libel proceedings over a Facebook post that implied he blew up Daphne Caruana Galizia with its author now arguing it was only a metaphor

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat took the stand this morning in an ongoing court case which he had filed against lawyer Christian Grima, as attempts at reaching an amicable settlement between the parties have so far been unsuccessful.

Muscat took Grima to court over a social media post the latter uploaded last year in which he accused the former PM of “blowing up” journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Caruana Galizia, a prominent critic of Muscat’s government, was murdered in October 2017, after a bomb placed inside her car was remotely triggered. One of the men involved in planting the bomb has since admitted guilt and was jailed for 15 years after a plea bargain.

Proceedings against two other men who also participated in the assassination are awaiting trial. In separate criminal proceedings, the heir to the Tumas fortune, Yorgen Fenech, has also been indicted for commissioning the murder. 

Grima did not attend today’s sitting. Speaking on his client’s behalf Grima’s lawyer, Carl Grech, said “Grima did not want to infer that it was Muscat personally who stuck some bomb to the bottom of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car, or who somehow pressed the button that detonated the bomb which killed her.

"Dr Grima wanted to say - as the Public Inquiry concluded and according to the resolution of the European Parliament and other evidence which is now in the open - that it was the government of Dr Muscat that created or permitted the creation of, an environment of violence and impunity which led to the killing of a journalist who uncovered a web of corruption weaved from 2013 onwards," the lawyer said.

In his Facebook post, Grima had shared a video uploaded by the Nationalist Party’s youth movement MZPN, featuring Muscat’s wife talking about Caruana Galizia’s murder, calling out her euphemistic phrasing when she made reference to “what happened to” Caruana Galizia. “What happened to her? Your husband blew her up. That’s what happened to her,” Grima had written.

Muscat was present in court when the case was called this morning.

Magistrate Victor Axiak asked the lawyers whether any understanding had been reached between the parties.

Muscat’s lawyer Pawlu Lia replied that the parties were close to reaching an understanding, 

The plaintiff, Joseph Muscat, took the witness stand. His lawyer asked him what had bothered him about the publication and who had written it.

“More than bothering me, this case was very defamatory because even the harshest critics of mine had never said this, that I was directly or indirectly involved in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.”

Muscat and Grima had been at school together he said. Reading the offending passage, Muscat said its meaning was “very clear.” 

“At that point in time, the Public Inquiry had not been published yet. [And even then] Nowhere in that inquiry was anything of this sort ever said.”

“It is clear that there is no hint of me being somehow involved in what Dr Grima said,” Muscat told the court, adding that the defendant “crossed a red line there.” 

From the witness stand Muscat said that the matter would have been different had Grima’s criticism been directed less specifically than at him. “What he said was totally defamatory.”

“The insult is clear, he put me…” Muscat said. “In the shoes of the killer,” said the court, finishing the sentence.

Grech informed the court that the defence was reserving its right to cross-examination. He asked to make a declaration about what Grima wanted to mean in his writing.

“That Dr Grima meant what he said metaphorically, right?” asked the magistrate.

Grech went on. “At no time was he saying or meaning that Muscat was sticking a bomb to a car. What he meant was that under Muscat’s leadership in government, an environment was created which led to the murder of a journalist.”

Muscat, standing next to his lawyer, half smiled.

Lia pointed out that the second sentence of Grima’s declaration diluted the first, adding that he understood that Grima’s pride was also involved to some extent, going on to observe that “these are situations which create hatred and create consequences.” 

The magistrate adjourned the case to November for Muscat’s cross-examination.