The Times of Malta and I are facing separate but similar defamation lawsuits brought against us by Christo Georgiev, the principal owner of Satabank.

Satabank was a Maltese bank in business between 2016 and 2018. In that short space of time it grew rapidly, mostly because of the gaming industry here in Malta. HSBC and APS do not touch gaming companies. Bank of Valletta would rather it didn’t. So Sata became the go-to bank for that industry.

Members of the large expatriate community also flocked there for their personal banking. The other high street banks stretched new clients on the rack to consider opening a current account for them. Satabank’s policy with new clients was a bit wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am and its growth rate was stratospheric.

Entirely innocent customers attributed Satabank’s relative efficiency to a refreshing competitive advantage in customer service. But its competitors knew intuitively something was wrong with Sata. They felt there was no way the new kid on the block was anywhere near complying with the statutory procedures to block dirty money from going through the system.

This was the time of the Pilatus Bank debacle. Malta’s pathetic inability to regulate and control money-laundering operations disguised as banks was now evident to everyone. And murmurs started to emerge that Satabank would be “the next Pilatus”.

Journalists working for the Times of Malta and others started to dig into Georgiev’s past. He had been in business in Luxembourg before he came to Malta but he oddly had renounced his Luxembourgish license voluntarily. In financial services terms, Malta is not an upgrade on Luxembourg. Why did he move?

It turned out that Luxembourg financial intelligence agents were on to Georgiev and the evidence they were gathering was piling up. He quit the scene and came to Malta. Luxembourg investigators shared their findings with their Maltese colleagues forewarning them that Georgiev was trouble.

Yet, somehow, he still got his licence to open a Maltese bank. That’s the way we roll.

Georgiev also owns a business that operates point-of-sale terminals. Press reports covered investigations into allegations that the terminals were used in Greece and Venezuela to by-pass currency controls.

When I reported this on my own blog ( in March 2018, Satabank was still pumping. Georgiev hired Maltese lawyers to push me to delete my reports.

If I didn’t I was told Georgiev would sue me in the UK where his point-of-sale terminals business is based. In a friendly aside, his lawyer told me that if his client lived up to his threat, I’d have to jump off the nearest cliff.

If this country fails to defend its journalists from the aggression of its corrupt bankers, its citizens will no longer know what’s being done with their money, their economy and their collective reputation

Put plainly, I was scared. I took the story down and signed a retraction agreement with one of Georgiev’s pocket directors. The deal came with instructions on how to expunge my article from any results of Google searches into Georgiev.

Then, in October 2018, shit hit the fan. The Maltese regulators, keen to make up for the catastrophic Pilatus experience, fell on Satabank and froze its clients’ money.

Systematic, all-pervasive, structural deficiencies in anti-money laundering procedures were found and the bank was slapped – excuse the entirely intended pun – with a record €3 million fine. But no one was charged. Because that’s the way we roll.

But there was much suffering and gnashing of teeth.

Businesses got locked out of their cash box. Some had to fold and dismiss their employees. Salaries went unpaid for months and some employees were reduced to scrounging for bread and milk.

Though most of the pain was suffered by expats or non-residents, some Maltese businesses who banked at Satabank folded. The dreams of start-ups were shattered.

Georgiev, on the other hand, went back home to Bulgaria continuing serenely as though the day his bank was shut down was just like any other. But he still has the classic Google problem.

Anyone thinking of doing business with Georgiev will find the Satabank mess. That is why he needs anything written about his past record, the suspicions into his conduct and about the consequences of his actions for entirely innocent victims erased from the record.

You can’t sue for libel in Malta more than a year after something you are complaining about was published. And asking a court to order the destruction of material that has already been published would be an outrage. Also, there’s the annoying detail that the Times of Malta and I could, in a Malta courtroom, summon witnesses and have his vexatious arguments dismissed.

So, he sued us where we cannot defend ourselves even if we could afford to, because we can’t make witnesses appear to sustain our case.

He’s not after the money. He’s after the fear that paying him damages would be our last act in journalism.

And that fear would force us to do his bidding and delete the offending stories from the last two years from the online record.

He knows it has worked in the past. Times of Malta complied (to a certain extent) with a similar demand from Pilatus Bank’s Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.

I complied with a similar demand from Satabank’s Georgiev himself. If this country fails to defend its journalists from the aggression of its corrupt bankers, its citizens will no longer know what’s being done with their money, their economy and their collective reputation.

It’s not Times of Malta or myself that are being slapped now. You are.

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