High-ranking police officials are looking into whether assistant commissioner Ian Abdilla should face criminal repercussions for his failure to investigate politicians exposed in the Panama Papers. 

Abdilla was suspended and put on half pay by police commissioner Angelo Gafà on Monday with the public service commission asked to investigate whether there are grounds for his dismissal from the police force. 

The suspension came after the damning findings of a public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Aside from the Public Service Commission’s review of the situation, Times of Malta is informed that Gafà has tasked one of his deputies to review the testimony and findings of the public inquiry and assess whether there are grounds for criminal steps to be taken against Abdilla.

The inquiry was scathing about police inaction into allegations of government corruption and financial crime.

It found that the police “did hardly anything” to investigate media reports and that there was “direct and suspicious interference” by the prime minister’s former chief of staff Keith Schembri into police investigations.   

The former Economic Crimes Unit head was sidelined to assume an operational role last year by Gafà in his first move as the head of the police force.   

Abdilla, who retained his rank as an assistant police commissioner, was mentioned dozens of times in the inquiry report.

“How could you not do anything about the Panama Papers! How could you not send for Keith Schembri and the rest? We seem to be living in a parallel universe,” one of the judges on the inquiry board told Abdilla during a tense sitting last year.

The ECU’s probe into the Panama Papers stopped before it even began in April 2016, as the police decided that seizing the servers of offshore service providers Nexia BT would be too intrusive.

Instead, the police decided to wait upon the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit to provide more information before pursuing further investigations.

Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of the assassinated journalist, has accused Abdilla of having spent years sitting on multiple reports of high-level corruption.

Abdilla oversaw the probe into 17 Black, the company owned by Caruana Galizia murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

The former ECU head had told the public inquiry that he held off from questioning Fenech in November 2018 after Times of Malta and Reuters exposed him as the owner of the company linked to government corruption.

Ex-superintendent’s links with businessman

Police investigating the former head of the anti-money laundering unit have hit the brakes on pressing criminal charges against him after uncovering further questionable behaviour.

In June, Times of Malta reported how the police had reached out to the attorney general’s office on how best to proceed after closing off an investigation into former superintendent Ray Aquilina.

That investigation, sources said, had concluded that Aquilina should face a raft of criminal charges, from tax evasion to corruption, over his relationship with Yorgen Fenech.

However, although police sources said they were poised to haul Aquilina to court, they have since put that plan on the back burner. The same officers are understood to be looking into Aquilina’s relationship with another businessman. 

Aquilina was arrested in April after police received the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry into leaks from the murder case.

Since then, the police have investigated a plan for a suspicious property deal involving the former police superintendent and Fenech.

Officers from the police’s anti-money laundering unit, formerly Aquilina’s own office, believe that a Birżebbuġa apartment worth in excess of €180,000 was set to be sold to Aquilina’s parents for around a third of its market value by Fenech in 2018.

The plan being investigated by police was for the property to change hands for some €60,000.

Sources said the apartment was then to be donated to Aquilina by his parents in what police suspect may be a case of bribery and money laundering.

The apartment was originally owned by property magnate Joe Portelli who was taken in for police questioning over the matter. 

In spring of 2018, when the property plan was hatched, an FIAU report had named Fenech as the owner of offshore company 17 Black and was sent to the police’s anti-money laundering unit.

In December 2018, the police unit, headed by Aquilina at the time, sent a request for information to Dubai as part of the investigation into the FIAU report.

That request, however, was never taken seriously by the Dubai authorities as it contained incorrect information.

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