European Federation of Journalists

Panama Papers: ICIJ Maltese journalist sued for defamation by Prime Minister Muscat

Updated on 16.05.2017.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has filed on the 10th of May 2017 a defamation case against Matthew Caruana Galizia, journalist at the International consortium of investigative journalists (ICIJ) and Pulitzer Prize winner, for revealing documents through the Panama Papers accusing Maltese Prime Minister of corruption. Joseph Muscat denied the journalist’s allegations. The European Federation of Journalists called on the minister to reconsider his legal action, highlighting the chilling effect of such an action on media freedom.

Caruana Galizia is sued in relation to a series of posts and documents published on his Facebook page proving, among others, that the Prime Minister took kickbacks on the sale of Maltese passports, via his chief of staff Keith Schembri. On Tuesday 16, Matthew Caruana Galizia affirmed that Facebook had deleted part of his “Corruption Facts” posts in Maltese and blocked some functionalities – he can no longer write, send messages, like or reply to comments on his own Facebook account.

These Facebook posts are linked to the revelations made last year in the Panama Papers, a leak of 11.5 million documents from the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca. The files revealed that Keith Schembri and the energy Minister had set-up Panama-registered companies, including a shell company allegedly belonging to the Prime Minister’s wife. The Panama Papers scandal has rocked the Maltese government – which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union –  and forced Muscat to call an early election in June, nine months before the end of his term.

The Institute of Maltese Journalists said: “Matthew Caruana Galizia exercised his right to freedom of expression and the Prime Minister decided to file a libel, this is also his right. Now, it is up to the court to decide whether the Prime Minister’s reputation was tarnished.”

In early February 2017, Maltese Economy minister filed four libel suits against journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia – who also had her bank accounts frozen – after she revealed that the minister and his consultant visited a brothel in Germany, while on government business. Daphne Caruana Galizia is also currently being sued, probably about her revelations linked to the Panama Papers.

Photo credit: Screenshot ICIJ