Daphne Caruana Galizia emerges from a PANA committee hearing of MEPs in April 2016. Photo: James Bianchi
The private bank Pilatus and its owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad had sued the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia for defamation in an American court.
Court documents obtained by MaltaToday show that Sadr and Pilatus sued Caruana Galizia on 8 May in the Maricopa County superior court, in the state of Arizona, where GoDaddy.com’s headquarters are located.
The lawsuit, with an unspecified claim for damages, was filed at the time Caruana Galizia had alleged that the bank had processed a $1 million transfer from a Dubai company to the wife of the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, at the behest of the daughter of Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.
The reports prompted a magisterial inquiry over allegations that Muscat’s wife was the beneficial owner of Egrant Inc, a secret offshore company revealed a year earlier in the Panama Papers.
Caruana Galizia was assassinated on 16 October, 2017 in a car bomb outside her home. Three men, brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat, have been charged with her murder.
Pilatus Bank filed the suit in the jurisdiction of the host of daphnecaruanagalizia.com. But the bank filed a notice of dismissal – probably without having ever served the lawsuit to Caruana Galizia – a day after her assassination.
A source who knew of the lawsuit said the case could not publicised before serving Caruana Galizia. The source said the compensatory damages, which were to be specified throughout the trial, would have run into the millions of dollars. “The bank wanted to tell the court that they had lost considerable business because of her, to request suitable damages for that loss.”
In the lawsuit, Pilatus complained that Caruana Galizia’s posts were defamatory and false.
“Pilatus Bank was not set up to criminally launder money… Mr Sadr has not committed any criminal acts. Pilatus does not have accounts for Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife Michelle Muscat, Tillgate, Hearnville or Egrant Inc. Pilatus Bank did not participate in the transactions described… executives did not order staff to conceal information from government investigators.”
Pilatus also denied having held a safe in the kitchen – allegedly having held a declaration of trust indicating Michelle Muscat’s name as owner of Egrant – or that it had secret documents connected to Muscat.
“As a private bank, Pilatus Bank’s reputation and trustworthiness is essential to its ability to operate as a bank… defendant’s defamatory statements foreseeably caused substantial damage to these relationships and threaten to irreparably destroy those relationships, and thereby destroy Pilatus Bank itself.”
Pilatus said Caruana Galizia’s statements had “caused disruption and termination” of prospective economic relationships, and accused her of having “intentionally misappropriated and published Pilatus Bank’s confidential information, including customer names.”
The bank, in suing the journalist for defamation, tortious interference with business expectancy and injurious falsehood, accused Caruana Galizia of intending to bring Pilatus and Sadr into disrepute, and of publishing her statements with actual malice.
“Defendant’s conduct was intentional, malicious, racist, abhorrent, and oppressive, justifying an award of punitive damages,” Pilatus Bank said. Sadr, presenting himself as an American citizen, was often referred to by his Iranian ethnicity as the son of one of Iran’s richest men, banker Seyed Mohammad Sadr Hasheminejad.
The bank was extensively featured in Caruana Galizia’s blog, mainly with the post that alleged that Michelle Muscat was the owner of the mysterious Egrant Inc.