Lack of cooperation from investigative authorities outside the EU is partly to blame for the slow progress in police investigations into “truckloads” of cases flagged by the government’s anti-money laundering agency, the police CEO said on Monday.
Angelo Gafà was speaking during his grilling for the post of police commissioner before a parliamentary committee, which was bereft of Opposition MPs who boycotted the hearing. His nomination was unanimously approved by the four Labour members on the committee.
“To go to court we need evidence, and not just the intelligence we have been receiving by the truckloads from the FIAU.
"In most cases, organised crime is transnational and this makes it more challenging especially when having to rely on the cooperation of non-EU jurisdictions. This is the major bottleneck we are experiencing,” Gafà told the Public Appointments Committee.
However, he pointed out that the police force has been collaborating with Europol for a number of months now, and certain probes into financial crimes were recently widened.
Moreover, the force was recruiting civilian experts to assist in financial investigations, he said. He added that investigators will soon have more time on their hands because in the near future they will no longer spend hours in court leading prosecutions as this job will be taken over by the Attorney General’s Office.
“We need to be realistic and seek outside help. I do not have a magic wand to solve cases, but I am confident we have all the pieces in place to do a good job,” he said.
Traffic section overtime racket
During his grilling, Gafà distanced himself from the overtime racket in the traffic section which had come to light last February, despite the fact that this happened under his watch.
Asked by government whip Glenn Bedingfield whether he felt he had to shoulder responsibility, Gafà insisted he had flagged the abuse before the case had become public.
“I had identified the problem and sent written recommendations to the commissioner for a more centralised overtime system to improve accountability, but these were not taken on board at the time,” he insisted.
Asked by Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo on how he would be safeguarding the force from political interference, Gafà said he would be doing his job without fear or favour.
“Nobody ever tried to interfere in my job during my career and I will not tolerate it as commissioner,” he insisted.
The police CEO said certain shortcomings were due to the fact that some policies were not written and consequently there were instances of interference on various fronts.
“A police officer who has just joined the force cannot expect to be at the forefront of investigations on day one,” he said.
Better communication needed
The police CEO acknowledged that according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, public trust in the force had slipped to 59% from 68% in 2018.
Gafà acknowledged this was of concern but at the same time he said it was also the result of the police shying away from the media.
He pledged to make use of press briefings more frequently and to be forthcoming to questions by the media which, more often than not, has to rely on sources for basic information.
Hate crimes unit
Gafà said that the police was in the process of setting up a centralised hate crime unit.
“Online hate speech has created a problem as cases are assigned by district, he said. We plan to have a centralised unit with dedicated officers rather than lose time in turf wars,” he said.
However, he noted that this year a record number of hate crime cases had been taken to court.
Lack of leadership skills
During the hearing, Gafà expressed concern that the force lacked leadership skills and said he would work to improve the academic level across the board.
He said the fact that for the vacant post of commissioner only one application was submitted from among 15 assistant commissioners and two deputies spoke volumes.
Selection process ‘a farce’ - PN
In a statement, Shadow Home Affairs Minister Beppe Fenech Adami justified the Opposition’s boycott by saying that the selection process was “a farce” as the government still had the final say and could fire the commissioner after just one year.
Fenech Adami said the police had failed to investigate the likes of Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat in connection with cases of corruption.
The Opposition has insisted that the nominated candidate should enjoy the support of two thirds of the 69 MPs in order to have security of tenure.
The process to fill this vacancy was launched in April through a public call presided by the Public Service Commission, which is a constitutional body responsible for recruitment in the public sector.
Although the full list of names of the applicants was never divulged, a fortnight ago it was announced that the commission had whittled down the list to just two.
Gafà who in 2016 had been handpicked by the government to be the first CEO of the police force, turned out to be Cabinet’s preferred choice.
Since the change of government in 2013, the police force has gone through turbulent times with no less than seven commissioners.
In January Lawrence Cutajar tendered his resignation soon after Robert Abela was sworn in as prime minister. Carmelo Magri has been serving as acting commissioner during this transitional period.