The Malta Independent 4 December 2020, Friday

Police arrests: Whistleblower says officers collected ‘protection money’, misappropriated fuel

Neil Camilleri Thursday, 13 February 2020, 07:00 Last update: about 11 months ago

A whistleblower who has come forward and exposed corruption in the Police Traffic Branch has claimed that officers would collect ‘protection money’ from a number of major construction firms and transport companies.

In return, the officers would turn a blind eye and not dish out fines to these companies for traffic contraventions and other violations.

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Up to 30 members of the Traffic Branch have been arrested as part of an investigation into what the police has described as overtime abuse. The Malta Independent is informed, however, that this is only the tip of the iceberg, and that the arrested officers are facing much more serious allegations.

This newsroom is informed that the whistleblower revealed in December that several members of the Traffic Branch were due to start collecting cash and gifts from a number of companies. It is understood that the officers investigating the case were given details about how these payments would be collected.

Sources said the practice had been ongoing for a number of years, with the money collected going into a bank account administered by a particular police officer and later paid out to the members who were in on the racket.

The Internal Affairs Unit was also told about other payments collected from contractors and company for a “Traffic Branch Christmas party that did not exist,” the sources said.

Other allegations involve the “indefinite suspension” of traffic fines in exchange for money. This, the sources said, was done by logging into the LESA IT system, which the police have access to, and initiating a procedure to suspend pending fines.

 

Getting paid for doing nothing

The Malta Independent can also reveal that the “overtime abuse” claims have nothing to do with overtime, but are rather related to extra duties that officers were logging in which were not being carried out.

It is understood that Transport Malta had issued a contract to the Traffic Branch for the latter to provide officers to monitor traffic flow at the Marsa Junction. Initially, officers who were on normal duty were performing these extra duties instead of the people actually assigned to them (extra duties cannot be carried out during normal working hours).

This means that officers who were supposed to be monitoring traffic in Marsa were actually staying at home, while their colleagues who were on normal shifts were doing the work in their stead.

Eventually, no officers were performing these extra duties, but Transport Malta was still being invoiced for the work and was paying for it, sending cheques directly to the Traffic Branch. These cheques were then being cashed into the same bank account mentioned earlier, with the money later being paid out to the officers.

Sources said the officers who were taking part in this racket were disconnecting the GPS tracking devices on their motorcycles. The racket was, however, uncovered during the investigation using other means.

Some officers were claiming payments for extra duties when they do not even know how to drive a motorcycle or have a motorcycle license, the sources said.

The Malta Independent is informed that a similar racket was employed during the construction of the Kappara Junction.

 

Fuel theft from police garage

The sources explained that several members of the unit were also misappropriating fuel from the police garage. The officers would fill up their vehicles with 10 litres of fuel every day but would siphon out half the amount and either use it in their private vehicles or sell it.

The officers would exaggerate on their fuel consumption figures, claiming to have used all the fuel drawn in the morning. Officers started becoming suspicious when newer, more fuel-efficient motorcycles were purchased.

 

Arrests and resignations

The Malta Independent reported yesterday that the Superintendent in charge of the Traffic Branch, Walter Spiteri, has resigned with immediate effect

He is expected to be among the officers charged in court. Spiteri was reinstated into the Malta Police Force in January 2017. Spiteri, who was in charge of the day-to-day running of the branch, allegedly claimed motorcycle-related allowances he was not entitled to.

The Duty Officer, a Women Police Sergeant, has also resigned, and at least two Inspectors have also been arrested in connection with the investigation.

The police said yesterday that 37 people have been arrested so far, with 5 released on police bail.

Arraignments are expected in the coming days.

The offices of the Traffic Branch remain sealed and the motorcycles used by the arrested officers remain impounded at the CID yard at the Police HQ in Floriana.

In a statement, the police said that a contingency plan has been set in place to make up for the absence of the officers from the roads while they are being investigated.

Sources, however, said the force was experiencing a logistical nightmare since more than half of the traffic branch is currently under arrest and under investigation.

The police said LESA and Transport Malta officials are helping the police as part of the contingency plan.

 

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