Journalists and publications are under more scrutiny than ever before with the concept of fake news being pervasive in all our lives now. The European online newspaper EU Observer has recently caused a stir regarding what it claimed the Luxembourg-based private intelligence firm Sandstone got up to. And now it has resulted in Sandstone filing criminal charges against them.

It started when the newspaper published an article titled “Blood from Stone. What did British PR firm do for Malta”. They claimed that a UK PR consultancy that specialises in crisis management, Chelgate Ltd, hired Sandstone to do a report on the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist who was assassinated by a car bomb back in 2017. This was said to be part of a process where Chelgate would then pass on briefings to various European media outlets on the killing.

The paper claimed that “excerpts of Sandstone’s research, seen by EUobserver, pointed away from Muscat to exotic theories that Russian president Vladimir Putin and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev had conspired to assassinate Caruana Galizia, using a Chechen killer”. The EUobserver’s foreign editor Andrew Rettman is also said to have written an email to Chelgate’s chairman, saying “got hold of this report Sandstone did for you with all sorts (sic) of bonkers theories about the killing of Galizia”.

As one might expect with this sort of info being covered by a newspaper, it attracted some media attention, including from The Guardian journalist Juliette Garside, who is said to have tweeted: “Fake news material apparently circulated by UK pr firm @chelgate, working for the disgraced Maltese Government. It suggested the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia was ordered by Vladimir Putin and the President of Azerbaijan. Cynical, unethical, bonkers”.

It’s been said that the allegations are false, which is why Sandstone, founded and managed by Frank Schneider, is pressing charges against EUobserver, where both criminal and civil legal proceedings are underway. 

The report that EUobserver referred to is supposed to exist, but it has been alleged that it wasn’t prepared either by Sandstone, or anyone working for them and that they were commissioned by Chelgate or any other third party to prepare the report. Chelgate are said to have not asked anyone else to commission the report either. 

Sandstone has said that they did receive the report among material given to them from various sources while research 2018 controversies in Malta, but say that they themselves thought the report was weak and unconvincing and found no use for it.

Now a legal scuffle looks set for a showdown in the courts, with Sandstone not backing down, and EUobserver not issuing any retractions. Time will tell how this one plays out.