An independent public inquiry into the police is needed following revelations of widespread corruption in the force, civil society group Repubblika has said.

“This is clearly not a case of abuse by particular individuals, but a corrupt structure where power was being used for illicit personal gain and to hide the filth and corruption that was being generated,” the NGO said on Saturday.

“This is a serious threat to democracy, a threat to the rule of law and a threat to our freedom.”

The police force has been rocked by an investigation into overtime abuse stretching back several years and involving police officers from various departments.

41 people have been arrested as part of the probe and seven officers – all from the police’s traffic section, which is believed to have been at the heart of the abuse – have resigned. One of the resignations was of superintendent Walter Spiteri, who headed the traffic unit.

The investigation, which was revealed by Times of Malta on Tuesday, was sparked by a whistleblower who wrote an anonymous letter to the former police commissioner and others, exposing the abuse.  

Prime Minister Robert Abela has said that the police investigation is a sign that the force is a functioning one and can investigate itself. Former police minister Michael Farrugia has said that annual reviews of overtime during his time at the helm had flagged no irregularities.

In their statement, Repubblika said that an independent inquiry should be tasked with finding out “whether there is a culture of abuse, corruption and impunity” in the force.

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The inquiry should not focus on individual criminal behaviour and was not intended to tarnish the reputation of police officers who did their duty “and who deserve our respect,” the NGO noted.

Repubblika argued that the police corruption scandal was further proof of the collapse of the country’s institutions.

“Corruption has reached such high and widespread levels that is has even corrupted those who are entrusted to fight it,” they said.