The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Daphne public inquiry - 'Unless you have enough evidence you don't send for people'

Wednesday, 1 July 2020, 10:11 Last update: about 2 months ago

The public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia is continuing today with more witnesses being summoned to testify about various aspects of the wide-ranging probe.

The inquiry is tasked, among other things, with determining whether the State did all it could to prevent the murder from happening.

The inquiry is led by retired judge Michael Mallia, former chief justice Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

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11:28 The sitting will continue behind closed doors. 

11:28 Asked whether he had been instructed to close an eye to this, Abdilla replies: “Absolutely not.” 

11:28 Abdilla: “Not ignore, you must be aware of this. But you'd have to be following it [the blog] all the time.” 

11:27 Azzopardi: “One of the largest stories of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 was that of the contraband cigarettes, which required an organised criminal network. That you have a journalist in our country who repeatedly mentions names and that one had gone abroad with a tax official. Do the police ignore this?” 

11:26 Abdilla: “You have to walk in my shoes... elderly pensioners being defrauded, sometimes I get PQs on why investigations are closed.” 

11:25 Judge Lofaro says the explanation didn't wash with her. 

11:25 Abdilla: “In 2016 we had much bigger cases which hadn't emerged in the media... We have nearly 100 cases every three months.” 

11:23 Abdilla says that for many years he wasn't happy with the resources the ECU had to meet the demands on it. “It was this last year that everyone started to appreciate and listen,” he adds. 

11:17 Abdilla: “Normally, when there is something not administrative in nature, the auditor always refers it through the Commissioner of Police... in this case it didn't. In my job I cannot follow every report.” 

11:16 Abdilla: “Normally, the report would specify if the police needed to take steps. I don't believe this happened.” 

11:16 Azzopardi: “Had the police felt the need to investigate what was in the Auditor General's report on the ITS deal?” 

11:15 Abdilla: “To be honest, I wasn't aware of this. DB group qatt ma stajt naqbad art.” 

11:14 Azzopardi makes a final question to Abdilla: “Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote several posts and scrutinised the takeover of the former ITS site by the DB group and made reference to contraband activities by the owner. Debono had gone abroad to buy a Maserati and had taken a high ranking official of the customs department with him, she had said.” 

11:13 Abdilla says he does not know how Valletta knew that Yorgen was not there on the day that he was going to question him. 

11:12 Abdilla: “I never knew Fenech personally. I never spoke to him or exchanged phone calls or messages. The relationship between Valletta and Yorgen, we heard it on recordings shortly before it came out on the media.” 

11:11 Abdilla is asked who took the decision not to interview Fenech at the depot. “It is possibly his... Valletta's,” he replies. 

11:10 Abdilla says that Valletta had called him up to tell him that Yorgen Fenech was not there. “I had discussed the visit with Valletta as my direct superior,” he adds. 

11:09 He is asked again about the visit to Portomaso. Abdilla says it happened the “Sunday or two Sundays” after the Times of Malta revealed 17 Black belonged to Fenech. Comodini Cachia interjects, suggesting it happened between the 9 and 14 of the month. 

11:08 He is asked whether he formed part of the task force investigating the Caruana Galizia homicide. “Yes, but I was actively involved last August when working on the Melvin Theuma money laundering investigation. Before the Degiorgios and Muscat arraignments in December 2017, the Economic Crimes Unit was not involved,” Abdilla says. 

11:05 Abdilla: “It was 18 March [2018] for sure because the FIAU report told me.” 

11:04 Abdilla is asked about a visit to Yorgen Fenech at Portomaso with then deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta. He is also asked when he got to know about the involvement of Fenech in 17 Black. 

11:02 Abdilla: “Normally, the correspondent bank would have the Swift message... to date we want the full picture of Yorgen Fenech and all his interests in Dubai.” He insists on answering the question in private. 

11:01 Abdilla wants to answer in private.

11:00 Comodini Cachia: “Had you asked any American correspondent banks about the transactions?” 

11:00 Abdilla: “Yes.” 

11:00 Comodini Cachia: “Doesn't this always require an American correspondent bank?” 

10:59 Comodini Cachia asks about 17 Black and Dubai. She queries whether the police information indicated that the transactions were mostly in dollars. “Yes, mostly,” Abdilla replies. 

10:58 Abdilla: “The Egrant inquiry involved, among other things, gathering all the journalist's writings on the issue. We didn't find the transaction and couldn't trace it at all... there was nothing that was close to this allegation. At the time, Azerbaijan did not even have a functional FIAU. We tried to investigate any truth in that report and analysed everything. But we found nothing at all.” 

10:56 Azzopardi says there are Pilatus directors in Malta. He continues that Caruana Galizia had mentioned on 19 April 2017 a link between the daughter of the Azerbaijani leader, Alijeva, and Egrant but the police waited 24 hours to investigate. "Why?" 

10:54 The board stop the question, saying that he would have to ask it to the MFSA. 

10:54 Azzopardi expresses surprise that the Pilatus director Armin Eckerman, who gave the advice to sue Daphne Caruana Galizia, and who was required to approve all prospective clients, was a director of Finanzia Malta Ltd, a company based in Malta. “We have a director of a money laundering machine, who has ruined our reputation and we will all suffer for it, being declared fit and proper by the MFSA. How did the MFSA declare him fit and proper?” 

10:52 Abdilla says that it had been confirmed but it wasn't criminal. “You have the core banking system and a swift banking system, which are not the same.” 

10:50 Azzopardi reads from an interview in a financial crime blog with a Pilatus executive. “Did he have a double accounting procedure?” 

10:49 Abdilla says the US authorities hadn't answered a rogatory letter and had given reasons. But the rest is to be discussed behind closed doors, he adds. 

10:48 Azzopardi: “Have the Maltese authorities asked for the extradition of Ali Sadr from the US?” 

10:47 Abdilla: “I don't remember.” 

10:46 Azzopardi asks about CCTV footage of Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr being handed a paper and putting it in his briefcase. It is important, he says. 

10:46 Abdilla explains that not even the magistrate had sent letters rogatory to Montenegro. Letters rogatory had been sent to France though, he confirms. 

10:45 Azzopardi asks Abdilla why he had told his subalterns not to send the letters rogatory to Montenegro until the end of summer. 

10:44 Azzopardi asks more questions, this time about Interpol and Europol cooperation in cross-border investigations involving Latvia, Dubai and Montenegro. 

10:43 Lofaro: “Ma nifhimx... imma m’inix injoranta u m’intix ser tgħallimni int.” 

10:42 Abdilla: “Ma tifhimx sinjura…” 

10:42 Judge Lofaro asks why he hadn't sent for Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. She shakes her head and adds: “We seem to be living in a parallel universe.” 

10:40 Abdilla protests that the police are bound by procedure and protocol. “The police cannot just up and do things like this… I was hurt by the fact that the media had been more successful than the police on this issue,” he adds. 

10:38 Azzopardi: “Do you know that a journalist and the son of the victim went to Dubai and obtained this information? Why can't the Maltese police not do this?” 

10:36 Abdilla says that in the last sitting he had said that the Dubai authorities were cooperating, but insists that today he is taking that back. 

10:36 Abdilla is unhappy that the media are reporting that Dubai had cooperated in the investigation. “The police are being led by the nose by the Dubai authorities,” he says. 

10:34 Abdilla: “No. The investigation is part of the 17 Black investigation. There was just one transaction involving Cifidex... where necessary we are sending letters rogatory. Dubai hasn't bothered replying. The Cifidex report in its conclusive state hadn’t arrived from the FIAU. All we have is a draft report. The investigation into Cifidex was given a boost with the arrest of Yorgen Fenech.” 

10:33 Azzopardi asks whether the police had sent for any of the directors of Enemalta over the Cifidex and Montenegro investigation. Reference is to a wind farm project purchased by Enemalta from Cifidex in Montenegro in 2015. A recent news investigation by Reuters and Times of Malta revealed how Cifidex had only just bought the shares in the project before selling them at more than triple the price to Enemalta. Yorgen Fenech’s 17 Black ended up pocketing a “profit share” from the Cifidex sale. 

10:30 Abdilla: “The case is almost concluded... the person doing it is a good man... and it might not even be perjury.” 

10:29 Azzopardi points out that in July 2018, Magistrate Aaron Bugeja who led the Egrant inquiry had demanded that Karl Cini from Nexia BT be investigated for perjury. 

10:28 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks how many inspectors are in his team. “Currently four,” he replies, but at the time he only had two. 

10:27 Abdilla: “Today with the rules of disclosure, the instructions I give on all my cases is that unless you have enough evidence you don't send for people… No request for international cooperation had been made at the beginning.” 

10:26 Judge Lofaro cannot believe that he had not spoken to Schembri or Mizzi or other high profile subject persons. 

10:22 Abdilla: “No.” 

10:22 Judge Abigail Lofaro interjects and with a loud voice asks: “Did a magistrate tell you not to summon Keith Schembri? Yes or no?” 

10:21 Abdilla: “In many of our cases, the police don't work independently of the magistrate. We need the experts of the magistrate...” 

10:20 Abdilla: “At first, we assume that the bank works with normal due diligence. Due diligence indicated Keith Schembri. I hadn't sent for him at the time but Keith Shembri was later summoned in the [Egrant] magisterial inquiry.” 

10:19 Comodini Cachia points out that the bank’s computers were seized a year after the first report was filed. 

10:19 Abdilla: “People out there might think that we did nothing. But Malta had one of the largest investigations. The FIAU investigated. Foreign experts were involved - we had the best experts involved. The bank was analysed from scratch, it cost us millions. Malta never had an investigation like this before.” 

10:16 Abdilla says that Michelle Muscat was first mentioned on the night that the Egrant story broke on Caruana Galizia’s blog. 

10:16 Abdilla continues that he would use Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog as a source for his investigations. It was probable that he had used it for the bank investigation, he adds. 

10:15 One of the judges interjects: “This is good but in order for this to happen a journalist had to be murdered.” 

10:14 Abdilla says he wants to talk about the Pilatus investigation and gives a long explanation of how this was done. “Hopefully in the coming months we will have arraignments,” he adds. 

10:12 Abdilla says he doesn't remember what the documents which were taken out of the bank were. “I'm sorry, I didn't come prepared for that,” he says. 

10:11 Comodini Cachia says the allegation is that Michelle Muscat, the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat, had her name linked to Egrant, a Panama company with a bank account at Pilatus Bank. 

10:09 Lawyer Ian Refalo points out that it would be a crime to do otherwise. 

10:09 Abdilla: “The only people we tell of the outcome of an investigation is the FIAU itself.” 

10:09 Abdilla says he had been investigating former European Commissioner John Dalli and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, but hadn't contacted them about it. 

10:08 QUICK REMINDER: The inquiry board is hearing the testimony of Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Abdilla. He headed the police Economic Crimes Unit until last week, when he was replaced by the incoming Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà. Abdilla has faced flak for failing to carry out proper investigations into numerous allegations of money laundering by people close to power. He is largely being questioned on a number of investigations in his remit that were linked to stories written by Daphne Caruana Galizia and people connected to her murder. 

10:04 Abdilla: “Until the issue exploded, Pilatus was one of the banks which we would contact for information in investigations.” 

10:04 Judge Mallia points out that this was a complaint made by a bank. 

10:04 Abdilla: “I know they sent a complaint but I cannot remember the specifics. I didn't enter into this issue, I assigned it... I can't remember all the complaints.” 

10:03 The lawyer says that in 2016, Pilatus Bank issued a PR announcing it was aware of misappropriation of information and filed a criminal complaint about leaks in its regard. 

10:01 Abdilla: “We didn't take any steps as... God forbid that every time we receive a report we take steps. Every bank has these reports.” 

10:00 Abdilla is then asked about account holders at Pilatus Bank. “There was only Keith Schembri... as far as I know, Konrad Mizzi doesn't have an account there.” 

10:00 The lawyer presses on: “The reports on dubious transactions were in July 2016 and the other in November 2016.” 

09:59 Abdilla: “What happened was that we were working on the Egrant case...” 

09:59 Comodini Cachia asks: “So as liaison officer for the FIAU you had no report on Pilatus bank before?” 

09:57 Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia, representing the Caruana Galizia family, asks for the date of the bank's closure. “28 April 2017,” Abdilla answers. He adds that the FIAU report on the bank was received in 15 October 2018. 

09:55 The board press Abdilla on the issue. “The bank was closed immediately and spent months under lock and key... Even if we had been on the scene immediately after the broadcast there would have been nothing because it was all recorded,” Abdilla replies. 

09:53 Abdilla says that the matter was the subject of a long discussion with the Attorney General as to under what law the police could stop the owner of a bank from carrying documents. “He wasn't stealing them,” he says. 

09:52 Mallia admonishes him. “Don't you think it is irresponsible, leaving him alone for hours despite the suspicion?” 

09:50 Abdilla says he wasn't aware at the time the footage was being aired. "Shortly afterwards I received a call from the Police Commissioner asking me to come to depot at around 9pm. The issue of the suitcase was subject of the Egrant inquiry. The bank was entirely covered with CCTV. There is uninterrupted footage from the moment that Sadr left his taxi and entered the bank." 

09:49 On the Pilatus Bank investigation, the judges ask about the time period when the bank was allowed to operate despite the live broadcast of its owner leaving the premises at the dead of night. The reference is to live footage taken by a NET TV camera crew that filmed Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad and a top bank official leaving the Ta’ Xbiex premises at night. Hasheminejad was carrying with him a travel bag. 

09:47 Mallia narrows down his question to investigations on the Panama Papers, Pilatus Bank, the Enemalta Montenegro deal and other related ones. 

09:46 Abdilla: "The cases are very varied. There are hundreds not one or two..." 

09:46 Michael Mallia, the retired judge heading the inquiry, asks Abdilla about his many money laundering investigations. 

09:44 Abdilla is administered the oath. 

09:44 Lawyer Prof. Ian Refalo asks whether the sitting is going to be behind closed doors. The judges say it is not going to be a closed sitting a priori. 

09:43 The three judges heading the inquiry file in and Abdilla takes the stand. 

09:39 In his earlier testimony, Abdilla had recounted how once he had arranged to question Yorgen Fenech at his Portomaso office but while on his way, then deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta called him and told him to put off the visit because Fenech was sick. It has been shown that Valletta and Fenech were close friends, having also gone abroad together to watch a football match. Abdilla could not explain why Fenech was not summoned at the police depot to be questioned. 

09:36 Abdilla had already testified in the public inquiry earlier this year. Last week, Abdilla was replaced as head of the police's Economic Crimes Unit in one of the first major decisions taken by new Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà. 

09:35 Lawyers and journalists start to fill the hall. Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla has been waiting outside the courtroom since 9am. He is expected to testify. 

 

 

 

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