The Bulgarian co-owner of Satabank has sued blogger Manuel Delia in his native Bulgaria, seeking damages for a post he uploaded in October 2018.
In a post uploaded on Saturday, Mr Delia said that he had been named in a case filed by Christo Georgiev in Varna, Bulgaria.
He described the court case as a SLAPP suit. SLAPP - strategic lawsuits against public participation – are cases filed in overseas courts which seek to silence journalists by making it too expensive for them to defend themselves in court.
The complaint cites an October 2018 blog post in which Mr Delia said that Mr Georgiev was facing investigations "by various police forces around the world while being sheltered here in Malta by Joseph Muscat’s government”.
In that blog post, Mr Delia wrote that he regretted having retracted a separate post about Satabank, after being threatened with legal action in the UK by the bank's lawyers.
Satabank was ordered to stop taking client deposits that month after an investigation by financial crime authorities identified several shortcomings in the bank’s anti-money laundering procedures.
The bank was subsequently fined €3 million for money laundering breaches.
Although Mr Georgiev had not responded to Mr Delia's October 2018 blog post, the businessman has now chosen to sue him in Bulgaria, which is ranked 111th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ world press freedom index.
Fines for libel in Bulgaria range from 1,000 (€500) to 20,000 (€1,000) Bulgarian Lev.
Mr Delia said that the Varna district court had given him one month to respond to the civil complaint.
He said he found the complaint "odd".
"His complaint does not seem to be that anything I wrote is untrue. Merely that the investigations I wrote about were at the time not concluded," Mr Delia told Times of Malta.
"Satabank was, as has now become clear, behaving in a manner that fully justified interest by journalists, not to mention regulators.
"If Mr Georgiev felt he needed some form of redress he could have invoked a Maltese court, where his bank is and where the story was published.
"Journalists cannot afford to fly around defending lawsuits in jurisdictions that operate in different ways and in different languages at the whim of anyone who knows this and wants to shut us up," Mr Delia said.
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