Injunction granted in separation case between migrant aid NGO co-founders

A judge has upheld an injunction to prevent one of the co-founders of a search and rescue NGO from attempting to remove the other co-founder’s directorship or shareholding

A judge has upheld an injunction to prevent one of the co-founders of a search and rescue NGO from attempting to remove the other co-founder’s directorship or shareholding.

The decision concerns an internal power struggle between the founders of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), triggered by marital separation proceedings.

The application for the warrant was filed in December 2023 by Italian businesswoman Regina Egle Liotta against her estranged American husband Chris Catrambone, in the context of separation proceedings.

The former couple are the co-founders of MOAS, a Malta-based humanitarian NGO that has rescued tens of thousands of vulnerable people from dangerous situations in the Mediterranean and Aegean seas, and helped many thousands more by supplying food and medical aid to Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and providing critical medical care to civilians in Ukraine.

Liotta cites the breakup of their marriage as the context for what she described as “a malicious and premeditated action by the defendant aimed at completely and without justification, removing his wife from ownership of the companies.”

The plaintiff also states that Catrambone is the beneficial owner of the American company Tangiers International LLC, which also owns Tangiers Group and accused him of attempting to remove her from the board of that company, as well as Tangiers International P.L.C and a related company, ReSyH Ltd, through a series of planned legal manoeuvers, ultimately aimed at transferring the companies to the USA.

She requested a warrant of prohibitory injunction that would prevent Catrambone from, amongst other things, transferring or selling his shares in a number of jointly-owned companies, removing her as director or otherwise restructuring them. Tangiers Group P.L.C. MOAS’ parent company is one of the five companies listed in the injunction. Although Tangiers International Ltd had been incorporated shortly before the parties -who are also its shareholders together with Tangiers Group Ltd - married, the latter company had been set up after they had wed.

In her application, Liotta told the court that she had come to know of a document which, she alleged, lays out the “planned manoeuvres,” and details the steps that should be followed to remove her from the Board of Tangiers International Ltd and ReSyH Ltd.

She also states that she had been locked out of her official email addresses without being given a reason, rendering her unable to access banks, payment provider platforms and all of the companies’ internal systems. Company employees had also been instructed “not to communicate with [Liotta] in any circumstances,” said the plaintiff.

Catrambone contested the injunction, arguing amongst other things that Maltese courts did not have jurisdiction over the matter and pointed out that the couple had already commenced separation proceedings in the USA, and that Liotta had already acquiesced to court proceedings in New Orleans by responding to Catrambone’s case and filing a counter-claim.

Such injunctions are upheld summarily on the basis of prima facie evidence, before the case on the merits begins.

In a ruling, handed down from chambers on Friday, confirming the upholding of the injunction, Madame Justice Audrey Demicoli highlighted that these were summary proceedings about whether there were prima facie  grounds to uphold the request for a precautionary warrant. The defence’s contestation on jurisdictional grounds was something that would be dealt with in a case on the merits.

Liotta had a prima facie valid right to protect her interests in the community of acquests from being reduced in value or transferred to others, which was the exclusive source of income for both parties for the duration of their marriage, said the judge, agreeing that the injunction was necessary to prevent her suffering irremediable prejudice.

The case will now move on to the merits unless the plea of jurisdiction is upheld.

Lawyer Kris Scicluna is assisting Liotta’s special mandatary, lawyer Veronique Dalli. Lawyer Robert Thake is representing Catrambone.