Nationalist MEP David Casa has called on the Maltese government and the EU to intervene after Pilatus Bank allegedly forced various Maltese media houses to delete articles by threatening them with multimillion libel suits in the United States.
“The harassment of Maltese media houses by Pilatus Bank – threatening multimillion lawsuits for exposing dirt – is unacceptable,” Casa said. “I will not rest before measures that counter these practices are put in place by the EU and government. Press freedom is paramount.”
The editors of Times of Malta and MaltaToday have confirmed they had disabled certain online articles about Pilatus Bank after receiving legal advice in the wake of threats of crippling libel suits in the US.
“We took legal advice following action which we considered to be a very serious threat to freedom of the press and to the very existence of our organisation,” the Times’ editors Ray Bugeja, Herman Grech and Mark Wood said in a statement. “Acting on that advice, we made a few amendments to some online content, all of which is still available to the paying public in the archives of our newspapers.”
MaltaToday’s executive editor Matthew Vella said the matter is still pending and the newspaper aims to restore the story.
“We are the victims when powerful players employ expensive libel suits to shut us up,” he said. “Added to that is the fact that they saw it politically convenient to threaten us, the messengers, rather than those who made the accusation.”
Meanwhile, the Malta Independent also confirmed it is taking legal advice after having received a warning from Pilatus Bank, which the newspaper said constitutes a “serious threat to its freedom of expression and its very own existence”.
The Institute of Maltese Journalists also came out strongly against Pilatus’ warnings, describing them as a “clear and serious threat to freedom of the press in Malta”.
It urged the government to amend its proposed update to Malta’s press laws to include provisions to safeguard media houses against such threats of crippling libel cases.
Pilatus Bank, a Ta’ Xbiex based private bank, hit the headlines last year when one of its former employees told late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia she had documented proof the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat was the ultimate beneficiary owner of the secret offshore company Egrant, which had been exposed in the Panama Papers.
The employee, Russian national Maria Efimova, said she had found the declarations of trust for Egrant locked away inside a safe in the bank’s kitchen.
Lovin Malta also received a legal letter from Pilatus Bank regarding stories published during the election campaign and is considering its legal position.