[WATCH] PN to present motion to remove garnishee orders against journalists

After Chris Cardona's garnishee order against Daphne Caruana Galizia, PN to hold protest in favour of democracy and freedom of speech

'Cardona's garnishee order a threat to democracy' - Simon Busuttil
'Cardona's garnishee order a threat to democracy' - Simon Busuttil
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses the party faithful in Sliema. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil addresses the party faithful in Sliema. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Some 1,000 people flocked to the Sliema front to listen to Busuttil's speech
Some 1,000 people flocked to the Sliema front to listen to Busuttil's speech

The Nationalist Party will on Monday present a motion in Parliament to forbid courts from issuing garnishee orders against journalists.

Addressing a PN rally in Sliema, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil also announced that the PN will next Sunday hold a national demonstration in favour of democracy and freedom of expression.

Some 1,000 people had turned up to the Sliema front in support of blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was recently slapped with a €46,000 garnishee order by the courts, following a request by economy minister Chris Cardona and his policy officer Joe Gerada.

The two filed the garnishee orders on libel suits they plan to instigate against Caruana Galizia over allegations that they had visited a German brothel.

Busuttil denounced the garnishee orders as "savage and extreme" and a "threat to democracy and freedom of expression" that risks instilling fear in journalists. He claimed that no one in Malta believes Cardona’s version of events (that he didn’t go to the brothel), as the crowd chanting “We don’t believe him”.

PN deputy leaders Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco at the rally. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
PN deputy leaders Beppe Fenech Adami and Mario de Marco at the rally. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

"Threats against freedom of expression are unacceptable in a democracy. When you remove the right of people to express themselves, you leave them imprisoned within themselves," Busuttil said. "I might disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

Without mentioning Caruana Galizia by name, he said that “the journalist in question” was unlikely to feel threatened by Cardona’s court action, but that other journalists might now feel intimidated.

"Malta has been gripped by a climate of fear that was never present under PN administrations, where everyone used to be able to say what they wanted without fear of repercussion. Many people are now scared to speak and attend rallies such as this.

“You did not come here because you had nothing to do on a Sunday morning or because you want something from me personally, but for the good of Malta. I pledge to you that, under my leadership, Malta will once again become a normal country and that you will not wake up to the news of fresh scandals everyday.”

Democratic Party leader Marlene Farrugia at the PN rally. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Democratic Party leader Marlene Farrugia at the PN rally. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

Some 1,000 people were present at the protest, including several PN MPs, MEPs and councillors. Notably, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco – who was recently accused by Caruana Galizia of not throwing his weight behind Busuttil – was present. Partit Demokratiku leader and independent MP Marlene Farrugia also attended the rally, a Maltese flag draped around her shoulders. Caruana Galizia herself was not present.

Read more: Garnishee orders and freedom of speech

Cardona and his policy officer Joe Gerada last week hit Caruana Galizia with four garnishee orders, based on the maximum damages liable on separate libel cases they plan to instigate against her. The libel cases concern Caruana Galizia’s allegations that Cardona and Gerada had visited a German brothel in Velbert while on government business. The two have vehemently denied the allegations.

A crowdfunding initiative by PN candidate and radio host David Thake managed to raise around €70,000 for Caruana Galizia in 36 hours.

However, One Radio host Manuel Cuschieri warned that Cardona and Gerada will file more libel cases against Caruana Galizia in the coming weeks, each attached to a €11,500 garnishee.

“They do well to continue raising funds for Daphne Caruana Galizia because next week I will continue to slap her with one libel after another, and with each one an asset freeze,” he said on Facebook, quoting Cardona. 

PN candidate Salvu Mallia at the Sliema protest. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
PN candidate Salvu Mallia at the Sliema protest. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday

‘Who owns the third Panama company?’ – Busuttil

Although the focus of his speech was on Cardona’s garnishee order, Busuttil also touched on the Panama Papers scandal – specifically the third offshore company Egrant which was opened by auditors Nexia BT and whose ultimate beneficiary owner remains unknown. 

“This week in Parliament, I repeatedly asked Muscat who owns the third company and I could see the rage running through his veins. I also heard him insulting me personally when his microphone as switched off.”

He questioned why Nexia BT had chosen to reveal Egrant’s owner to Mossack Fonseca via a Skype phonecall, rather than by email – as the names of minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri had been passed on to the Panamanian law firm.

“Who could be so important that Nexia didn’t even want to write their name down?” the PN leader questioned, as the crowd roared. “Nexia BT’s managing partner [Brian Tonna] has a desk at Castille, so it is obvious that Muscat knows the true identity of Egrant’s owner.”

Busuttil also noted that Mossack Fonseca’s founders were recently arrested on charges of money laundering in a case tied to a separate Brazilian corruption scandal. Panama’s Attorney General Kenia Porcell said that the information so far “allegedly identifies Mossack Fonseca as a criminal organisation that is dedicated to hiding assets or money from suspicious origins”.

“These are the consultants of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri – charged with running a criminal organisation,” Busuttil said. 

‘Busuttil pouncing on lies to divide the country’ – PL

The Labour Party accused Simon Busuttil of pouncing on lies and insinuations to try and divide the country.

“Busuttil cannot stomach the fact that Malta is doing well and progressing, and the PN’s sole weapon is to try and divide and provoke in an attempt to gain some sort of political advantage,” the PL said in a statement. “His hysterics reveal a panicked Opposition leader who is trying to save his own skin.”

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