Updated 1.20pm with Mizzi, Caruana Galizia statement
Keith Schembri, the prime minister's chief of staff, and Minister Konrad Mizzi said they will be instituting libel proceedings against Daphne Caruana Galizia, minutes after she implicated them in claims of bank transfers from Azerbaijan.
In a blog post this morning, Ms Caruana Galizia said that very large sums of money had been transferred from the bank account of a company owned by politically exposed persons in Azerbaijan. The money, she said, had been transferred to "bank accounts held by Egrant Inc, Hearnville Inc (ultimate beneficial owner: Konrad Mizzi, the Minister Within The Office of the Prime Minister) and Tillgate Inc (UBO: Keith Schembri, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff)."
A year after the Panama Papers scandal broke out, the blogger also said she would reveal in the coming days the identity of the person who owns the third company in Panama, Egrant Inc, which she said was put into dissolution a few days ago, indicating that another company may have been set up to replace it.
A Maltese bank, set up after 2013, was used to move the money, she added.
But in a statement through the Department of Information, Mr Schembri denied the claims made in his regard and said would be filing libel proceedings on Monday.
"I will ask the court to listen to this libel case with urgency. If she is so sure about what she's saying, she should agree to the urgency of hearing the case. Whoever makes such claims should substantiate them."
He added: "The internal disputes within the Nationalist Party will pave the way for a new season of lies and fake news. I am determined not to permit more lies and fabricated stories about me."
The internal disputes within the Nationalist Party will pave the way for a new season of lies and fake news- Keith Schembri
In another statement later, Dr Mizzi also said he would be instituting libel proceedings against Ms Caruana Galizia in connection with her "slanderous allegations" and that he will further request that the court hear the case with urgency.
He also denied Ms Caruana Galizia's subsequent blog post that in September 2015 he had visited Pilatus Bank in Ta’ Xbiex.
"No sum of money was ever transferred to Hearnville Inc. Indeed, Hearnville Inc. never had any bank account. Furthermore, Minister Mizzi never visited Pilatus Bank. Additionally, no funds from or related to Azerbaijan were ever transferred in any way to Minister Mizzi or any member of his family," the statement said.
Dr Mizzi said he had requested trustees to commission an independent audit of the New Zealand family trust and of Hearnville Inc. The trustees engaged Crowe Horwath, one of the largest public audit and accounting firms in the world, and the audit has established that the financial statements of the structure were presented fairly, in all material respects and in accordance with accounting policies, the minister said.
In another blog post, Ms Caruana Galizia defied the two officials: "Bear in mind that when I broke the story about their companies in Panama and trusts in New Zealand, they said I was lying too. But I wasn't.bThey, on the other hand, have been ceaselessly lying through their gritted teeth. And now, of course, they’re panicking."