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Businessman suing UK journalist linked to firms threatening press in Malta

Carole Cadwalladr
Carole Cadwalladr Photo: Ted Talks.

Arron Banks, the controversial British businessman with links to Henley & Partners and Cambridge Analytica, is threatening to sue Netflix for a documentary that has not yet been released.

The documentary ‘The Great Hack’ focuses on the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the widespread abuse of people’s personal data for political purposes.

Banks was the focus of a letter sent to UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday by international press freedom campaigners calling for action against “vexatious lawsuits” against British journalist Carole Cadwalladr who investigated the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Although the documentary is yet to be released, Banks’ lawyers have issued a legal threat that raised concerns over “false and defamatory allegations” made by investigative journalist Carol Cadwalladr and others.

The findings on the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal led to multiple investigations by regulators and a $5 billion fine for Facebook.

Karim Amer, the co-director of ‘The Great Hack’, said that they found it ridiculous that Banks was making legal threats without having even seen the film. He told The Guardian, “we stand by the contents of the film and will vigorously defend against any claim”.

“The latest legal threats are a further attempt to smother vital investigative reporting,” said Paul Webster, the editor of The Observer, the newspaper where Cadwalladr works.

Saying the lawsuit was a clear attempt to intimidate and harass her, Cadwalladr added: “It’s extremely concerning that a millionaire can use the law in this way. This isn’t just an attack on me, it’s an attack on journalism,” she said. 

In the letter to the UK Foreign Secretary press freedom campaigners, journalists and editors stressed the need for action against such lawsuits designed to stifle investigative reporting. The SLAPP threats faced by The Shift News and slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia were listed as further examples of the threat of vexatious lawsuits.

“This legal tactic was being deployed against murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who at the time of her death in October 2017 was subject to 42 civil libel suits against her, many of which were brought through a UK-based law firm, acting for foreign banks and wealthy individuals.”

The letter, also signed by the Caruana Galizia family and Caroline Muscat, stressed how such legal threats are designed to inhibit ongoing investigations and prevent public interest reporting:

“Abuse of defamation law, including through SLAPP lawsuits, has become a serious threat to press freedom and advocacy rights in a number of countries, including the UK.

Henley and Partners, who Banks is reportedly linked to through dubious offshore “wealth preservation” firm STM Group, had threatened to initiate SLAPP suits against Caruana Galizia.

The journalist had published correspondence between the global passport firm and Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri, in which the government gave its consent to proceed against the journalist.

During a meeting with MEPs looking into the rule of law in Malta, Henley & Partners confirmed it sought the Maltese government’s approval before suing because of “political implications”. The same firm threatened to take legal action against The Shift News “in the US or the UK” unless a report was removed. The Shift News did not remove the story.

STM, the company that Banks is alleged to have had a working relationship with for over a decade, has a string of investigations and money laundering compliance failures against its name. Its CEO, Alan Kentish, a director of a number of companies linked to Banks, was also detained in Gibraltar under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

STM was also involved in a suspicious bail out of Banks’ Gibraltar-based insurance business Southern Rock that began in 2015, just before he began bankrolling the Leave campaign on Brexit. In the same year, STM was allegedly “managing operations” for Henley & Partners, the concessionaire for Malta’s cash-for-passports scheme.

Cambridge Analytica was also found to have done work on Brexit, including Banks’ Leave campaign after an invoice surfaced, published by Cadwalladr. 

When questioned on his relationship with Banks and Kalin, the former CEO of Cambridge Analytica Alexander Nix refused to give a straight answer. 

The UK Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport investigating the abuse of personal data confirmed links between SCL Group (the parent organisation of data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica), Henley & Partners chairman Christian Kalin and Labour Party Leader Joseph Muscat prior to the 2013 Maltese elections.

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