Disinformation Watch #22: Chris Cardona gets his knickers in a twist

Last week’s revelations involving Economy Minister Chris Cardona triggered a wave of disinformation.

La Repubblica reported last week that in October 2016, a year before the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a call was made to Cardona and Alfred Degiorgio (one of three suspects charged with detonating the bomb that killed her).

The call was made by Pierre Darmanin immediately after speaking to the journalist, who had referred to him in a story on fuel smuggling, drug trafficking and car bombs.

La Repubblica also reported that Cardona attended an intimate bachelor’s party in June 2017 alongside Degiorgio.

What followed, is the stuff of fiction.

Cardona on the defensive

First, some context. When in April 2018 Cardona was reported to have been at the same Siggiewi bar as Degiorgio, Cardona replied claiming that he was never at the bar at the same time and that he never had any discussions with Degiorgio or the other two accused men.

Following the recent revelations by La Repubblica, Cardona issued a press statement through the government’s Department of Information that described the reports of his links to Darmanin and Degiorgio as “smears”.

In parliament, a hostile Cardona cheered on by Labour MPs, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, set off the government’s defence asking: “Is there anyone here that can exclude, particularly those who are lawyers, that they have never received a phone call from someone who is not of good conduct?”

What followed was a show intended to mislead and deflect criticism on serious allegations. Darmanin and Cardona never answered the questions by La Repubblica.

Then on Sunday, The Malta Independent published an “exclusive” story quoting “local and foreign sources close to the investigation” (people who are not permitted to talk to the media on developments in the investigation) confirming the calls between Darmanin and Degiorgio, but saying Cardona was not involved.

The Malta Independent also said it was Caruana Galizia who called Darmanin. Yet, the journalist had clearly stated it was Darmanin who called her, and this was confirmed by other sources. The story was immediately picked up and pushed by the usual pro-Muscat social media brigade, and retweeted by the Minister himself.

Selective targeting

The government pushed the client-lawyer angle, with Malta Today running a front-page headline saying that Caruana Galizia’s widower, lawyer Peter Caruana Galizia, acted for Darmanin but didn’t say in which case: civil proceedings filed by Rachel Tua, his former lawyer and mother to Darmanin’s child, for whom she refuses to have Darmanin listed as father.

Tua, in the civil proceedings, claimed that she acted for Darmanin in the criminal proceedings against him in which he was accused of fuel smuggling and that she was owed fees for this work. Tua lost the case.

An unsuccessful Labour MP candidate, Tua is currently a Labour councillor in Mosta and appointed as a board member of Digital Malta. She was also appointed board member of the Lotteries and Gaming Authority, by former Minister Edward Zammit Lewis.

Without mentioning any of this background, head of government communications Kurt Farrugia used this Malta Today headline (also carried in the Labour Party’s news channels) to continue to sow doubt on the motivations of the victim’s family.

The nature of Peter Caruana Galizia’s representation was excluded from reports, as were Tua’s links to Cardona who campaigned for his Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party, describing him as “transparent and unbiased”.

Also excluded from these reports were the fact that former Labour Deputy Leader, now judge Toni Abela, acted for Darmanin about a boat and trailer Darmanin took and never returned.

Also excluded from these reports are the links between Cardona and Vincent Muscat, another of the accused in relation to Caruana Galizia’s death. Cardona was Muscat’s lawyer in 2010 when Muscat was charged with being one of the main perpetrators in the HSBC hold-up. He already had a list of crimes he was associated with dating back 10 years.

These are the client-lawyer links that worry us and so they are the ones that the government is burying.

Edward – ‘because you loved me’ – Zammit Lewis

Next we had Labour MP Edward Zammit Lewis say in a debate with PN MP Jason Azzopardi that, in reference to the reporting about Cardona, “we cannot expect a minister to resign over a newspaper report”.

Zammit Lewis, who once wrote a love poem to the Prime Minister that plagiarised Celine Dion’s lyrics in the song ‘Because you loved me’, conveniently ignored the contents of the newspaper report.

His statement is disingenuous and deceitful. It is the findings of that investigation, written up in a number of “newspaper reports”, that should be the focus.

Zammit Lewis’ statement is representative of the government’s open hostility towards to the press and towards journalists. Like Cardona, Zammit Lewis didn’t deny the subject matter or the substance in the reports.

The Prime Minister says what he shouldn’t

Muscat in a visceral reaction to PN MP Simon Busuttil’s speech on Panama Papers company Egrant claimed that his wife Michelle Muscat’s signature was “falsified” and that this “obviously” features in the Egrant inquiry.

Muscat then accused Busuttil of “being a fraudster” and falsifying documents. Muscat quickly issued an official press release that sought to obfuscate his claims in Parliament, saying the inquiry spoke of falsified signatures in general but now Muscat didn’t mention his wife’s name.

Muscat also half apologised for his claim, saying he spoke in the heat of the moment, but also saying within the same press release that someone, which is to say Busuttil, who believed a lie “was a liar, and someone who backed a fraud was a fraudster”.

Why then did Muscat back down from his claim that his wife’s signature was falsified? We can think of two reasons: 1) it is patently not true, and/or 2) there are other documents signed by his wife that weren’t disclosed to the inquiry or were omitted from the inquiry report.

Read more in the Disinformation Watch series here

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