Journalist misled by 'Acapulco' SMS ruse from Malta

Political sources said they were told of the ploy by people close to the economy minister

Economy minister Chris Cardona has used the publication of an SMS to Daphne Caruana Galizia to insist her source was never in Germany
Economy minister Chris Cardona has used the publication of an SMS to Daphne Caruana Galizia to insist her source was never in Germany

A text message from someone claiming to be the second witness to have seen minister Chris Cardona inside a brothel in Germany, was intended at misleading the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

MaltaToday spoke to two different political sources, who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity and declared they were told of the ruse from people close to the economy minister.

The sources confirmed suspicions first raised during a defamation case when Labour Party organ One News and the lawyers of Chris Cardona and his aide Joseph Gerada – who sued Caruana Galizia for libel over the allegation that they were spotted inside Velbert’s FKK Acapulco brothel – presented a screenshot of an SMS sent to Caruana Galizia.

“A person who claimed to be a second witness to the Acapulco sighting, called Caruana Galizia saying that Cardona and Gerada had been seen returning to the establishment the day after she posted her allegation. The person then only kept in contact briefly with Caruana Galizia via SMS,” the sources told this newspaper.

The sources, who learnt of this detail in conversations with people close to Cardona, said the person who claimed to be the second witness had intentionally carried out the phone-call.

“The person obliged, as it were, to mislead Caruana Galizia, possibly for sport or to skew her reporting intentionally,” the sources said.

In conversations with the sources, one source suggested that the person – whose mobile phone number was discarded soon after the text message – could have been instructed to carry out the ruse.

“I am not aware who told this person to stand in as a sort of ‘second witness’. But I know that people close to the minister and his legal team are aware that when Caruana Galizia was fed information on the second visit to the brothel, it was someone setting her up.”

The second visit referred to the allegation Caruana Galizia published, claiming Chris Cardona and his aide Joe Gerada had been seen returning to FKK Acapulco in Velbert the morning after she had posted on her website an alleged eyewitness account of the two men inside the brothel.

MaltaToday asked Cardona to comment on this newspaper’s information that a third party was asked to feed information to Caruana Galizia in a bid to mislead her, but no answer was forthcoming at the time of going to print. His spokesperson acknowledged receiving the request and passing it on to his legal team.

Both men sued the journalist and Cardona requested a €47,000 garnishee order against her. Caruana Galizia’s legal team in turn requested that TAP data on the minister’s and his aide’s mobile phones be deposited with the court, to be opened at a later date to prove the location of the two men while on state business in Germany.

But in June, Cardona said he was in possession of SMS communication between Caruana Galizia and the alleged source of the ‘brothelgate’ story.

“The texts clearly indicate that Caruana Galizia did not know the identity of the source and never sought to verify the identity and the content of these messages,” Cardona said. “Additionally, the messages from this source were sent from Malta and not from Germany.”

The text message, published online by One News, gave the Acapulco saga a fresh twist after one of the two cases against Caruana Galizia was dropped by the presiding magistrate, after Cardona’s lawyer Pawlu Lia argued that the failure of Caruana Galizia’s heirs to turn up for the sitting should be legally interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Cardona was this week asked whether he intends reactivating this case, but no comment was forthcoming.

The other libel case against Caruana Galizia filed by Cardona’s aide Joe Gerada is still ongoing. Even here, the court preserved Cardona’s and Gerada’s TAP records for the night they were supposed to be at the brothel.

Cardona and Gerada, who have said the allegations are fabricated lies, said they spent the night at their hotel. Both men had tried to stop the court from preserving the evidence. But lawyers for Cardona and Gerada have insisted that the court preserve the call logs and SMS messages between Caruana Galizia and the person they believe was her source: arguably, knowing that this particular source was not in Germany but in Malta, and undermining the credibility of Caruana Galizia’s report.

Caruana Galizia’s FKK Acapulco report was based on an anonymous eyewitness account whom she had described as a “family friend”, whom she said had seen Cardona inside the brothel. Cardona had not issued an instant denial of the allegation at the time, when he was still in Essen on government business.

The next day, Caruana Galizia reported that Cardona and Gerada had returned to the premises, on the strength of a new witness – the source being the text message that Cardona himself has now insisted was from a Maltese phone number, and which call logs lawyers want preserved.

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