Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has revealed that he is facing a SLAPP lawsuit filed in Bulgaria by the owner of the shuttered Satabank over a speech he had given in Parliament.
In a Facebook live video uploaded this evening, Azzopardi revealed that he had received an envelope containing documents related to a lawsuit filed against him by Cristo Georgiev.
He said he was the first MP anywhere in Europe to have ever been sued for something said in Parliament in a foreign court.
“This is the threat to our democracy. I’m in good company when I see that I am with the Times, Manuel Delia, other journalists and Daphne Caruana Galizia herself, who were all hit with SLAPP lawsuits,” Azzopardi said.
He said that Georgiev had clearly had help from Malta since Azzopardi’s Parliamentary speech had been perfectly translated into English.
Azzopardi said the intention was clearly to have the case decided in Bulgaria where he was unable to defend himself, and to then have that sentence enforced in Malta.
Under Maltese law, MPs’ speeches are protected by Parliamentary privilige and cannot be challenged in court. However, there appear to be no safeguards against a sentence handed down in a foreign court being enforced here in Malta.
He said the intention was clearly to send a message to all MPs that they should not speak up about wrongdoing by powerful multinationals.
Azzopardi said he had informed party leader Bernard Grech, who he said, was taking the matter very seriously and who had offered him his support. Azzopardi said he would also be informing the Speaker of the House about the latest development.
SLAPP – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – are vexatious lawsuits filed in order to stifle free speech and healthy silence and harass critics.
Speaking in Parliament in November 2018, Azzopardi claimed that the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) had been handed a 300-page report about Satabank’s owner back in 2013 but failed to act on it.
Azzopardi had claimed that the report had been handed to the MFSA by Luxembourg’s financial intelligence analysis unit after Satabank owner Cristo Georgiev moved his operations to Malta from Luxembourg.
The only reason that Georgiev had moved his operations to Malta was that he was being investigated for money-laundering and other illegal activity, Azzopardi had claimed.
It now appears that Georgiev has taken Azzopardi to court in Bulgaria, where he is from.
Back in 2018, after it was revealed that several media houses had been threatened with SLAPP suits by Pilatus Bank, Azzopardi had tablet a Bill intended to prevent the outcomes of such lawsuits from being enforced in Malta.
Azzopardi’s proposal seeks to make any defamation judgment against a locally-based journalist to be considered “contrary to the public policy or to the internal public law of Malta”, thus protecting them from vexatious proceedings abroad.
At the time, then Justice Minister Owen Bonnici had said the government had sought advice from several local legal experts as well as British legal firm Bird & Bird, all of whom had suggested that the proposed amendments would violate EU regulations obliging member states to recognise sentences handed down in other member states.
This was however countered by Azzopardi, who pointed out that exceptions could be made to this obligation in cases where sentences ran counter to a country’s public policy.
In his video message, Azzopardi called on Prime Minister Robert Abela to heed the recommendations of the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and to implement journalists, activists and politicians from similar threats.
In a statement, the Nationalist Party called for a debate to be held about the matter in Parliament as soon as possible.
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