The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Caruana Galizia libel: Cardona tells court public pressure was a factor when filing counter warrant

Saturday, 7 May 2022, 08:03 Last update: about 3 months ago

Former economy minister Chris Cardona appeared in court on Friday morning in a case filed by the heirs of murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

The family is requesting damages suffered as a result of Cardona’s now infamous libel proceedings and related €46,000 in garnishee orders, which he had filed against her over reports that he had been spotted in a German brothel whilst on an official trip abroad.

ADVERTISEMENT

The plaintiffs argue that the fact that Cardona had withdrawn the cases without submitting any evidence supporting the garnisheed amount - the maximum amount allowed by the law at the time in libel proceedings - was proof that the proceedings were “malicious, frivolous and vexatious” at law.

It was also alleged in the past that the cases had been withdrawn to avoid mobile phone provider Vodafone from being summoned to exhibit the men’s mobile phone geolocation data in court, which would prove their whereabouts on the date in question.

The case, which was filed in 2018, is still ongoing four years later, having been transferred from one magistrate to another no less than three times.

Cardona appeared in Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo’s courtroom, assisted by lawyers Pawlu Lia and Joseph Gerada, taking the stand due to the fact that he had not confirmed an affidavit which he had filed last November in the acts of the proceedings, on oath.

In the affidavit, Cardona says that the libel cases he had filed against the journalist had been cancelled on 31 May 2018 at her husband’s request, after Cardona failed to appear for the court sitting. He said that at the time he had been considering the possibility of settling the libel cases out of court, adding that discussions had taken place between his lawyer and the Caruana Galizia family on this topic. 

Peter Caruana Galizia had seized the opportunity to get the cases thrown out, Cardona alleged. “That day, I had already, through my lawyer, filed counter-warrants against the garnishees that had been filed against Caruana Galizia, also because she had been killed a few weeks before and, as a result, I didn’t feel the need for these warrants to remain in force. Apart from this, I had been suffering public, as well as political, pressure to withdraw the garnishees and the cases against the Caruana Galizia family, as they had taken up the cases themselves.”

Cardona had specified in his affidavit that he could not ignore the pressure brought to bear on the government by local media outlets, and reports of a letter sent to the Maltese government by EU Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic, demanding that the pending libel suits against the murdered journalist be withdrawn, “pressure that was clearly also instigated by the Caruana Galizia family”.

He insisted that he hadn’t taken the initiative of withdrawing the libel cases, emphasising that it had been the Caruana Galizia family’s lawyer who had requested the cases be struck off.

The former minister was cross-examined on the contents of his affidavit by the murdered journalist’s husband, lawyer Peter Caruana Galizia, when the case continued on Friday morning before magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo. “You said your lawyer had filed the warrants on the advice of lawyer Pawlu Lia as he had advised that it would be difficult to recover the money,” Caruana Galizia asked.

“It is true,” Cardona said. “Dr. Lia told me that it would be very difficult to notify the defendant,” he said, adding that he was told that there had been difficulty in executing warrants against Caruana Galizia in the past.

“Even the car didn’t appear to be registered in the defendant’s name… I’m not saying she didn’t have a car, but that it wasn’t registered in her name.” Lia confirmed to the court that he had given this advice.

Caruana Galizia asked why, after being struck off at the defendant’s request,  the case had not been reactivated within the time period allowed by law. The former minister replied that there were two issues at play.“There was political pressure from local and European governments to drop the case and secondly, because Dr. Lia had informed me that he had been approached by the defendants with a view to settling out of court…My lawyer had asked me ‘do we file another application to reactivate it?’ I said no.”

Cardona also told the court that he had been allowed to miss several sittings in those proceedings to attend meetings in Brussels. This emerged from court records, he said.

Peter Caruana Galizia asked Cardona whether the garnishees had been withdrawn at Daphne Caruana Galizia’s request after the amounts secured by the warrants had been deposited in court.

“I remember that after the garnishees were filed, an application for their revocation was filed by [lawyer Joseph] Zammit Maempel,” Cardona replied, adding that the superior courts had upheld the garnishees.

“David Thake started a crowdfunding initiative which had collected an amount equivalent to the sum garnisheed, and more,” he said.

“I remember that when Caruana Galizia was murdered, I had given instructions to revoke the garnishees,” Cardona said, adding that “there was an impression from the EU and the European Assembly in Strasbourg that such cases against persons who had been killed, like journalists, should be stopped.”

Peter Caruana Galizia argued that the warrants had already been withdrawn at that point. 

Briefly cross-examined by lawyer Pawlu Lia, Cardona clarified that the garnishees had been approved by Magistrate Gabriella Vella and had later been revoked by magistrate Francesco Depasquale.

The case was adjourned to July for the defendant to exhibit his evidence. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi appeared parte civile in the case.

Background to the case

On 7th February 2017,  Chris Cardona, at the time the minister for the economy and his aide - today one of his lawyers - Joe Gerada, had filed four separate libel cases, together with court applications for two garnishee orders each against Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Each garnishee asked the court to freeze an amount equivalent to the maximum damages that could be awarded in a libel suit at the time, just under €12,000 each.  The precautionary warrants, which up till then had never been used with libel cases, bound all Maltese banks to freeze those amounts in any accounts which the journalist operated with them. The garnishee orders also directed Transport Malta, to prevent her from selling any vehicle which she may have owned.

Daphne Caruana Galizia had filed an application requesting the warrants be revoked but the Court had turned down this request. On March 1, 2017, HSBC deposited €43,000 in court as it was bound to do by law.  A week later, in order to cover the remainder,  the journalist herself had deposited a further €3,500 in court, bringing up the total to €46,500, enough to allow for the warrants to be revoked.

Two months later, Chris Cardona and Joe Gerada agreed to sign counter warrants in view of the fact that the sum they were claiming had been deposited in court.

The warrants were revoked, leaving the €46,587.48 seized under the garnishees, tied up in court until the libel cases are concluded, or unless Cardona and Gerada gave their consent for their withdrawal.

A few days after the journalist was murdered in a car bomb attack outside her home, Cardona and Gerada had again filed counter warrants against the original warrants from February. 

  • don't miss