The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

TMIS Editorial - Corruption: Finally, a police force that does its job

Sunday, 12 September 2021, 10:30 Last update: about 12 days ago

Over the past few years, and more particularly over the past couple of months, the Malta Police Force has been criticised for failing to prosecute top-level politicians and not acting on cases of corruption.

The criticism is justified in part because, for several years, the leadership of the police force was infiltrated, if not led, by people in government – people who had an interest in seeing that the police looked the other way, turned a blind eye.

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While, historically, commissioners had always been appointed by the executive, never than during Muscat’s years did we see such ineptness, such puppets on a string at the helm of the police.

For years, scandals uncovered by the media were left un-investigated, perhaps to give time to certain individuals to cover up their tracks. We had a financial crimes unit that seemed to do anything but its proper job, and not much, if anything at all was done when politicians were revealed to have opened suspicious Panama companies, apparently with the intention of receiving kickbacks. 

We are not saying that all is well now. In fact, former politicians who were linked to major scandals that took place in the Muscat years have not only evaded prosecution but, some of them also remain Members of Parliament.

But, while the criticism may be partly justified, one cannot but note the progress made by the force over the past couple of weeks. Perhaps the tide is finally turning.

The creation of the new Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) was by far the most important investment the police force made in recent years. The department is led by a competent person, operates from modern premises, and has beefed up its workforce, both in terms of uniformed officers and civilians.

Alleged crimes that went unchecked for several years have finally resulted in arraignments.

Just over these past few weeks, the police charged suspected Daphne murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech with purchasing weapons and poison, and with money laundering. They have also charged two individuals who were previously employed by the Tumas group Fenech once reigned over.

Last week, the police charged Pilatus Bank and a former official with money laundering. One could say that it took them long enough, that the scandal first uncovered by Daphne Caruana Galizia took place years ago, but unlike what happened under Muscat, the police have finally made headway and have taken people to court.

It has also been reported that former European Commissioner John Dalli is set to be arraigned this week, on charges of bribery. This is also a case that goes back several years. And the indications are that the police had once been close to prosecuting but were told, by the political class, to sit on the case.

It is true that we would like to see more action, to see that politicians who crossed the line are dragged to the courts to get their just deserts. If they are guilty, that is. But one cannot be short-sighted.

One must understand that, behind these prosecutions there are months, if not years, of difficult investigations. Investigations that are often lacking in cooperation from foreign jurisdictions, like what happened in the case of the Dubai authorities on investigations into 17 Black.

The police also often rely on the conclusion of magisterial inquiries, which could also take a very long time to conclude (for various reasons, some justified, some not so much) and may also face the same difficulties faced by the police themselves.

Besides, financial crime is very complex, and the experts know all too well how to cover their tracks and make the police’s job as hard as they can.

We also have to accept the fact that proof may often be very limited. While to us common people it might look enough to drag someone to court and then lock them up in jail, the evidence may not be enough for the courts.

It might be circumstantial. It might be hearsay. There may be proof of intent, but not actual proof that a crime was carried out.

In some cases, evidence given by suspects may lead the police to investigate other, more serious crimes, which means that the original investigation could have to be put on the backburner for a while.

We are all eager to see justice made, but the reality is that it’s not always so simple.

Given the developments of the past few weeks, it is unfair to say that the police have been sitting on their backsides doing nothing. It is also unfair to lay the blame squarely at the feet of Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa, who is heralding an important reform within the force. 

Good progress has been made and this needs to be acknowledged.

One now hopes that this rhythm is maintained and that, with time, all those who corrupted the nation will get what they deserve.

 

 

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