Caruana Galizia estate ordered to pay €1,000 in Alfred Mifsud libel

Court says Caruana Galizia post in 2016 that Alfred Mifsud had received bribes, was defamatory

Alfred Mifsud
Alfred Mifsud

A court has ordered the estate of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to pay damages in a libel case filed by former Central Bank Deputy Governor, Alfred Mifsud.

Magistrate Victor Axiak awarded Mifsud €1,000 in damages, ruling that allegations made by Caruana Galizia in a 2016 blog post – later disproven – that Mifsud had received thousands of Maltese liri from a Maltese businessman on behalf of an American software company engaged by the bank to upgrade its IT system, were defamatory in Mifsud’s regard and had harmed his career.

The blog entry in question was titled “BREAKING / Central Bank Governer-designate took large amounts of cash from major supplier when he was Mid-Med Bank chairman.”

Caruana Galizia claimed to have “cast-iron information” Mifsud took a significant amount of cash from a well-known businessman, whom she did not name, as Mid-Med Bank chairman, specifically three tranches of Lm50,000 in cash. Mifsud had denied the allegations: “I received no money... They never paid me any cash. The system was installed following an open tender process by the bank, and the decision was taken by the bank’s board of directors and not by me alone. It was a very long and complicated process.”

It was followed by other articles in the same vein, amongst them “Central Bank Governor- designate laundered portion of cash-bribes through third-party bank accounts” and “Fraud, corruption and money-laundering allegations make Alfred Mifsud’s current position untenable, Opposition deputy leader states.”

The blogpost in question had been published at a time when Mifsud’s promotion to Governor of the Central Bank appeared to be imminent, a position which the court said required its holder not to have “ugly shadows in its past which impinge on its trustworthiness.”

Caruana Galizia had testified in the case in June 2017, just months before her assassination in October that year, telling the court she had been approached by Mifsud’s former partner Anna Zelbst with the story.

Zelbst had claimed to have personally witnessed the cash being handed over to Mifsud at their home in Balzan. 

Mifsud testified during the hearing of the case, telling the court that Zelbst, his former partner, had blackmailed him and threatened to ruin his prospects of being appointed governor unless he handed her a sum of money and property in Gozo

Zelbst had also name-dropped Caruana Galiza in the conversation, telling him that “Daphne will now come in handy,” Mifsud had said from the stand.

In his decision, Magistrate Victor Axiak, stated that he had no doubt that Caruana Galizia had believed the allegations as told to her by Zelbst, but noted that the allegations had been found to be false, which meant that the defence of fair comment could not be applied.

Although not doubting the journalist’s bona fides, the court said Caruana Galizia had been hasty in taking Zelbst’s statements at face value, particularly in view of Mifsud’s immediate and categorical denials, said the court.

The story, which had been widely shared and which is still available online, had cost Mifsud the opportunity to become Governor of the Central Bank, a post which he worked hard to attain.

Lawyer Pawlu Lia assisted Mifsud. Lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel represented Caruana Galizia.