Updated at 5.50pm with ministry statement
Updated at 6.30pm with police statement
The two libel cases filed by Minister Chris Cardona against Daphne Caruana Galizia have been struck off the list by the Magistrates’ Court in accordance with a legal procedural move which brought about an unexpected twist to the proceedings.
The fact that the minister did not show up in court and the defendant made a formal cancellation request means the court case he instigated against the slain blogger is cancelled.
When the libel cases filed by the minister and his personal aide Joseph Gerada were due to continue on Thursday morning, Dr Pawlu Lia presented formal documentation for the three sons of the slain journalist to testify under oath.
"From day one, I had wanted the defendant to testify. I never had the opportunity to ensure that this happened," he said hinting at the journalist's murder.
"Now I want her three sons, as defendants, to testify. That will be my first proof," Dr Lia insisted.
Wouldn't it be better if the applicant were to stop playing hide and seek and just turn up in court to declare whether he ever left his hotel- lawyer
The comment prompted a reaction by the Caruana Galizia family lawyer Joseph Zammit Maempel who said: "Wouldn't it be better if the applicant were to stop playing hide and seek and just turn up in court to declare whether he ever left his hotel", clearly referring to the infamous brothel allegations targeting Dr Cardona which is at the heart of the lawsuits.
It was at that point that the assassinated journalist’s widower Peter Caruana Galizia pointed out that his sons were not in Malta and had received instructions from the police authorities to keep away from the island - something that the police denied categorically in a statement on Thursday evening.
Upon hearing this, Dr Lia rebutted that this was not true according to what he had gathered in respect of the absence of Matthew, Andrew and Paul Caruana Galizia.
However, Dr Peter Caruana Galizia insisted that what he was saying was true and that the police had even planted two officers outside his Bidnija residence on a 24/7 watch.
“This is how it will be for the next four years,” the victim's husband stressed.
Upon Dr Lia's insistence that the three siblings were to testify under oath or else get someone else to represent them in the proceedings, Dr Zammit Maempel countered by promptly and formally declaring that he was requesting the "liberatorja".
In legal jargon, this is a procedure envisaged by law whereby the default of appearance of the plaintiff (Dr Cardona) may bring about the cancellation of the suit from the list, at the expense of the defaulting plaintiff.
Magistrate Francesco Depasquale upheld the request, which effectively meant that the two libel cases filed by Minister Cardona against Caruana Galizia and another filed against Alexander Attard (PN media) were to be struck off the list.
The other libels instituted by the minister aide, Dr Gerada, who today was present in court, were adjourned to a later date.
Dr Lia informed the court that he would take the necessary measures to address the position of his client in terms of law.
Ms Caruana Galizia had written in her blog in January 2017 that Dr Cardona was seen at the FKK Acapulco brothel in Velbert, while in Germany to take part in a forum on the digitisation of European industry.
The FKK Acapulco advertises itself as a "sauna club", with services including stripteases, gogo girls and "30 fully air-conditioned top suites".
Ms Caruana Galizia claimed that the minister had been spotted at the club in the company of an unidentified "short and bald" man - subsequently identified as his aide Joe Gerada.
Dr Cardona instituted four libel cases after Ms Caruana Galizia after the blog post, and a court had also provisionally upheld a request by the minister to freeze €47,000 in her account.
Minister not in court due to 'work commitments'
The ministry said on Thursday evening that the minister was not present in court owing to government work commitments that precluded him from attending.
The defendant’s lawyer took up this opportunity to request the court to liberate the accused, in this case Daphne Caruana Galizia’s heirs, from the accusations against them and in the following procedure, Magistrate Francesco Depasquale decided to cancel the cases and remove them from the list of cases it presides over, it explained.
"Although Minister Cardona’s lawyer Paul Lia reserved his right to follow procedure according to law, the decision taken by the magistrate was final and therefore the minister's cases had to be concluded today. Dr Lia, however, proceeded to file the application and evidence planned to be filed in all the related libel cases, in the cases instituted by the minister's advisor, Dr Joseph Gerada.
These included text messages sent between the number used by Ms Caruana Galizia and an anonymous source. The texts clearly indicate that Ms Caruana Galizia did not know the identity of the source and never sought to verify the identity and the content of these messages. Additionally, in the application presented on Thursday, it is also stated that the messages from this source were sent from Malta and not Germany, the ministry said.
"The information relayed in these messages was then used as the basis of Caruana Galizia's published stories in which defamatory allegations were made against Minister Cardona and Dr Gerada. In light of this new evidence, the application filed today includes a request to the court to preserve call logs and SMS messages in relation to the communications made between the defendant and the source over the relevant period in relation to the stories published by Daphne Caruana Galizia."