Updated 2.30pm with ministry statement

Three police officers, one of them having been on the job for just a few days, were suspended and are due to be arraigned after being caught in possession of cocaine in a Paceville nightclub, the Times of Malta has learnt.

Sources said the officers were caught red-handed during a raid by the police drugs squad a few days before Christmas.

The officers were off-duty at the time.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia confirmed the information, adding that such incidents saddened him. The police media unit did not reply to questions about the matter but simply acknowledged their receipt.

The sources said two of the officers served in the rapid intervention unit, which is the only uniformed unit permanently armed.

READ: 10 grams of cocaine flushed down the toilet every day

One of them has been in the force for two years, and the other has been a policeman for just over a year.

The third officer is fresh out of the Police Academy, having been one of the 97 newly appointed constables who took the oath of allegiance during the passing out parade on December 16. The raid took place a week later.

Controls have been quite lax, and very little screening, if at all, is taking place

The sources remarked that internal controls had been “quite lax” and that very little screening, “if at all”, was taking place. They also questioned how the most junior officer managed to get through the preparatory stages without anyone detecting his addiction.

READ: Cow dung found in batch of cocaine

“This case goes to show what kind of monitoring and due diligence is being carried out among our officers,” one high-ranking police officer said.

Dr Farrugia said police officers were regularly subjected to urine tests. However, sources within the force said they had never been asked for a urine sample.

This newspaper reported last September that a police officer was arrested for allegedly stealing synthetic drugs from the lost-and-found storage of a police station.

The sergeant, who was assigned to that same police station, was arrested while on duty. A search of his locker unearthed synthetic drugs and other items that had been stored in the lost-and-found storage.

According to information that was given in Parliament last year, 27 officers recruited by the police since the start of 2016 had a criminal record.

The recruitment of police officers with a criminal record only became possible after the rules were changed when Labour was returned to power in 2013.

Previously, individuals who did not have a clean criminal record were automatically disqualified from joining.

Muscat decision to blame for this disaster - PN

In a statement issued on Saturday morning, Nationalist Party MP Beppe Fenech Adami noted that the Muscat government had so far already handed 47 people with criminal records a police badge. 

News of the three officers caught with drugs just confirmed the "disastrous" state Malta's police corps was in, Dr Fenech Adami said, as he expressed regret that "many honest police officers are having their work sullied by this sort of behaviour." 

Dr Fenech Adami serves as the PN's shadow home affairs minister.

PN attacking police, assists criminals - ministry

The fact that the police officers who were allegedly breaking the law were caught by their own colleagues reflects the serious attitude in the police corps, the Home Affairs Minister hit back.

It said the police in question had been suspended and the case referred to the Public Service Commission, as is the norm.

The government will continue doing its utmost to eradicate the few bad apples within the corps, the ministry said in a statement. It also challenged the PN to say whether there were similar cases when it was in government.

"The government will continue strengthening the police corps structure and is prepared to change things for the benefit of society. It will permit nobody to demoralise the corps from which the criminal will ultimately benefit."

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