Court orders Pilatus Bank inquiry be exhibited in Muscat's libel case against Daphne Caruana Galizia

The magistrate has ordered the Pilatus inquiry to be included in the libel case records, despite objections from Joseph Muscat's lawyer, who argued it was irrelevant and cited legal prohibitions against its use

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat
Former prime minister Joseph Muscat

The magistrate in Joseph Muscat's libel case against Daphne Caruana Galizia has ordered the Pilatus Bank magisterial inquiry to be included in the case records.

It emerged during today’s sitting that presiding Magistrate Victor Axiak had handed down a decree in which he ordered the Registrar of the Court to exhibit a copy of the proces verbal of the Pilatus inquiry on a USB drive. 

Muscat’s lawyer Pawlu Lia told the court that he had not been notified with the decree and had only just seen it, but objected to the order. 

Lia cited article 518 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits the acts of criminal cases being shown to anyone apart from the lawyers and parties involved without special permission of the court - unless they are read out in open court. 

In support of his arguments, Lia invited the magistrate to review the decree recently handed down by Mr. Justice Toni Abela rejecting a similar request made in the PN’s civil damages case arising out of the Vitals hospital deal

“This proces verbal, as far as I know, has nothing to do with [Caruana Galizia’s Egrant] story and I have no knowledge of it. That the court imposes something like this on a party, without me knowing what’s in it, when in libel cases the person making the libellous allegation must be the one in a position to substantiate their story with evidence…” Muscat’s lawyer complained.

Lia told the court that he knew nothing beyond that which had been published in the media. “That is what you are saying. The court does not agree,” replied the magistrate.

Defence lawyer Joe Zammit Maempel added that the decrees and proces verbal were going to be exhibited in their entirety, in around four weeks time in a separate constitutional case being heard by Madame Justice Doreen Clarke. Zammit Maempel added that he had summonsed Robert Aquilina to testify today about its conclusions.

Lia asked his counterpart what exhibiting the inquiry file would prove, but was called out by the magistrate. “You are not being reasonable. This is also in the interests of your client,” explained the court, pointing out that the case had originally been filed as urgent. 

But Lia insisted, telling the magistrate that the Criminal Court had already “investigated the articles and reached its conclusions on the basis of what the defendant testified on three separate occasions. “

“What has emerged in this case, did so through a breach of the law, by someone who now wants to be hailed as a hero…” Lia said, being called to order by the magistrate before he could finish.

The lawyer earned himself further rebuke when he told the court that the person who was leaking this information was committing a crime, later clarifying that he was referring to Aquilina, but “this court is willing to lend him an ear.” 

Zammit Maempel replied that “so far it is your client who is facing criminal charges.”

In reply to Lia’s question about the relevance of evidence against his client emerging from cases which weren’t his and which he didn’t know anything about, Zammit Maempel retorted that it was “because what happened in Pilatus Bank came out of Egrant.”

The lawyer went on to inform the court that on June 17, the proces verbal would be exhibited as part of the Constitutional case filed by Repubblika against the AG which is being heard by Madam Justice Doreen Clarke.

Magistrate Axiak therefore adjourned the case to July. 

The libel case had been filed against Daphne Caruana Galizia by former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat following a 2017 story published on her Running Commentary blog, which claimed that a secret offshore company, Egrant, had been set up in Panama in the name of Muscat’s wife, Michelle.

In the wake of the story’s publication, Muscat had requested a magisterial inquiry to investigate those claims.  That inquiry which had been conducted by then-Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, had concluded there was no documentation linking the Muscat family to the Panama company, with a UK-based forensic accounting firm also failing to find any evidence linking the Muscats to Egrant Inc on the servers of now-shuttered Pilatus Bank. 

Muscat’s insistence on continuing the case had earned him a rebuke in 2019 from the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, who had pointed out that the ongoing libel cases were putting unwarranted psychological and financial pressure on the journalist's heirs. Dunja Mijatović had argued at the time that such persistence could translate into an intimidation of the murder victim’s family and that it cast doubt on the Maltese authorities’ commitment to finding and bringing the masterminds of Caruana Galizia’s assassination to justice.