Joseph Muscat offers to drop Caruana Galizia libel if family accept Egrant inquiry findings

Joseph Muscat took the witness stand in a libel case he had filed against Daphne Caruana Galizia over a series of blogs in which she claimed Michelle Muscat was the owner of Egrant

Joseph Muscat breaks down in tears as he mentions his children and wife when the Egrant inquiry findings were published, exonerating his family from any wrongdoing last year
Joseph Muscat breaks down in tears as he mentions his children and wife when the Egrant inquiry findings were published, exonerating his family from any wrongdoing last year

Joseph Muscat is asking the heirs of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia to admit wrongdoing in an article that alleged his family owned Panama company Egrant.

The Prime Minister took the witness stand on Thursday morning in a libel case he had filed against Caruana Galizia over the infamous 2017 blog that alleged Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat.

Before Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, the Prime Minister said he was willing to drop libel proceedings if Caruana Galizia’s heirs clearly declared they were wrong.

Muscat made reference to the findings of the Egrant inquiry by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, which exonerated the Muscats and found that the documents that were supposed to prove wrongdoing were forged. The findings were published last year.

“I’m not after the person responsible but I will be content if it is accepted that it was a lie… I expect and demand a clear declaration from the other party that they were wrong and I am ready to drop the libel cases,” Muscat testified.

In several articles published on her blog, Caruana Galizia, who was murdered in a car bomb in October 2017, had alleged that Muscat's wife Michelle had opened an offshore company called Egrant to launder proceedings of corruption. She also alleged that Egrant received money from Azerbaijan.

Muscat’s lawyer Pawlu Lia asked him what he had to say about the articles.

“I want to declare that I had rarely filed libels because I accept that in my position I am subject to criticism. But in this case the lie was so large and involved my wife and family, that the political stability of the country was being affected,” Muscat said.

Describing the allegations as a “massive lie”, he said he knew neither he nor his family had done anything as alleged in the articles. He had immediately requested a magisterial inquiry.

"I was frustrated that it took so long but the magistrate made a thorough job, speaking to hundreds of people. Whoever doesn't accept the results or the magistrate's decision doesn’t want to accept the truth."

There was no need for doubt anymore, Muscat insisted.

READ INQUIRY FINDINGS: The Egrant magisterial inquiry report released by the Attorney General

Lia then asked the other party whether they were willing to accept the conclusions of the inquiry and asked the defendants to make their position clear.

Lawyer Joe Zammit Maempel said the Prime Minister was basing himself on a report that nobody had seen. 

Muscat interjected. "I based myself on the conclusion of the inquiry which is public. The magistrate gave no hint of doubt, the results are unconfutable."

The court asked Zammit Maempel whether he needed time to regulate his position. The lawyer was noncommittal.

The PM said that the articles were mentioned in the inquiry.

“My position is clear and emerges from what other people are saying. There is nothing to these allegations. 477 witnesses were spoken to, several rogatory letters were sent to foreign countries. Several details were incorrect especially those given by Maria Efimova. None of the documents quoted were found to exist. They were false documents made by someone who is not identified yet and this was confirmed by several foreign experts.

“Today people smile hearing them but it was a moment of great crisis. The country was on the brink of instability. This thing will hound me, because whenever someone googles my name or my wife’s name this will come up. This is why I’m filing this libel.”

Quoting from the conclusions of the inquiry he noted that there were numerous contradictions between testimony given by Caruana Galizia and Efimova.

“Personally, I have no idea if Caruana Galizia came up with these allegations herself or was fed by someone else or something else. I’m not going to speculate. The fact is that she made them her own, I don’t know if she checked them. All my legal advice says that the inquiry should not be published.

“I am not a lawyer but I understand that if someone invents a story to get someone in trouble it is a criminal act. I don’t know who did it yet, what I know is that the victims are myself and my wife. We were targeted specifically and in a cowardly manner by someone.”

Quoting at length from the inquiry conclusion, he said “I’m sorry that I’m being emotional but this affected my life. Politics requires a thick skin but I’ve been in frontline politics for a long time and have only filed another two libels”.

READ ALSO: Michelle Muscat after Egrant: No political ambitions but thirsting for justice

Muscat said that were he to go through the blog and sue for every libellous thing he could set up camp in the courtroom. “My level of tolerance is very high but this is unacceptable.”

Muscat then appealed again for the other side to take up his offer.

"Honestly, I cannot understand a situation where that which I requested in the beginning is not accepted. I understand the political and international context but this isn’t a question of opinion any more but a question of fact. We are ready to take a step back if the allegations are withdrawn.”

Daphne Caruana Galizia’s widower Peter Caruana Galizia and her sister were present in the courtroom.

The case continues in March.

READ ALSO: MaltaToday Survey | How Egrant turned into the mother of all miscalculations

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