Satabank co-owner Christo Georgiev has sued Times of Malta in Bulgaria over alleged damage to his reputation.
Mr Georgiev has taken exception to an article written in January last year titled ‘Billions of euros in Satabank transactions deemed highly suspicious’.
He claims a reference to him having faced international investigations had undermined his personal and professional authority, and caused him psychological and physical discomfort.
He said it had also caused employees at three of his companies to question if they were working for “some kind of international criminal engaged in money laundering or similar activities, because that was the implication”.
Satabank was effectively shuttered by authorities in 2018 after a joint FIAU and MFSA inspection flagged serious deficiencies in the bank’s anti-money laundering controls, although it has retained a banking license.
Prior to setting up shop in Malta, Mr Georgiev ran an e-money business in Luxembourg.
The group the bank forms part of voluntarily surrendered its electronic money institution licence issued by Luxembourg after Satabank was given its licence in Malta.
Times of Malta editor-in-chief Herman Grech said it was disgraceful that, once again, a banker has invoked a foreign jurisdiction to act against a Maltese news organisation, where the story was published and where his bank was based.
Nothing short of intimidation to try to financially cripple a news organisation
"As we had witnessed with Pilatus Bank, this is nothing short of intimidation to try to financially cripple a news organisation, whose job it is to hold the authorities, leaders and businesses to account.
“We will not comment about whether Times of Malta has ruined Mr Georgiev’s reputation. We will let our readers and the bank’s customers decide on that.”
Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi has told parliament that the Maltese authorities were handed an extensive report by their Luxembourg counterparts about Mr Georgiev’s activities.
Local investigators discovered Satabank’s main client was a payment company owned by Mr Georgiev.
A report published by Moneyval, a Council of Europe anti-money laundering body, revealed how the FIAU ordered Satabank to terminate the relationship with this "main client".
The Moneyval report says the FIAU ordered the bank to terminate this business relationship as it exposed Malta to “significant” money-laundering and terrorism financing risks.
In the complaint filed in the Bulgarian court by the Satabank co-owner, Mr Georgiev said his own daughter had stopped calling him, causing him to suffer as his child had lost confidence in him.
Mr Georgiev also alleged the article in question had caused him problems with his business partners.
The Satabank co-owner is demanding the article be removed and the payment of €10,000 in damages.
Blogger Manuel Delia is facing similar legal action by Mr Georgiev.
This is not the first time that a bank owner has sued local media.
In 2017, former Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr had threatened lawsuits against several media outlets and had even filed a suit in Arizona against slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The following year, the banker was charged with money-laundering and sanction-busting in the US.
He is contesting the charges.
In a statement, civil society group Repubblika condemned the legal action against the Times of Malta and Mr Delia.
The group called on the Maltese authorities to come up with legislation that would protect journalists and citizens' right to be informed.