Malta's former finance minister Edward Scicluna has refused to explain his 2014 decision to appoint disgraced former policeman Silvio Valletta to the FIAU board. 

"It was my prerogative... and I don't need to give a reason for it," Scicluna told the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal on Tuesday.

Scicluna, who in 2020 bowed down as minister to be appointed governor of the Central Bank, was testifying in a case that the president of NGO Repubblika, Robert Aquilina, filed more than two years ago.  

Aquilina is trying to access information linked to the government's decision to appoint Valletta to the FIAU board.

Valletta, who at the time served as a police superintendent, was appointed to the board of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) by the finance ministry despite concerns over his impartiality, given that he was married to then-parliamentary secretary Justyne Caruana.

Valletta was reappointed to the board for a second term in 2017.

When journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was assassinated later that year, Valletta was put in charge of the case. One year later, a court ordered that he be taken off it, due to the potential conflict of interest his marriage to Caruana presented.

Valletta retired from the police force in 2019. By then, activists were very openly demanding his removal from the FIAU.

Nearly a year later, Times of Malta exposed Valletta's close relationship with Yorgen Fenech, the man accused of complicity in Caruana Galizia's assassination.

The former policeman would later argue in court that he "couldn't say no" to Fenech. 

Repubblika wants to obtain the list of candidates that were presented to Scicluna for him to select from, when a post on the FIAU board became available in January 2014.

The names have so far remained withheld, with the government citing data protection as the reason.

How is the FIAU board is appointed

The FIAU, which is tasked with investigating potential financial crime, is governed by a board of five members who serve for a term of three years.

When it is time for the board to be reappointed, the law compels the Malta Financial Services Authority, the Police, the Attorney General and the Central Bank, among other institutions, to nominate three individuals for the role.

Each institution sends three names to the finance minister, who then chooses to appoint one from each list to the FIAU board of governors.

Scicluna's testimony

On Tuesday, Scicluna told the Tribunal that all of the names the minister receives were "papabile", or worthy of being appointed, so he could not go wrong in his choices.

"All three names were qualified and competent for the job. It is then in the minister's discretion to choose the one whom he feels is the best," he said.

"It was my prerogative to appoint one of those three people and I don't need to give a reason for it."

Repubblika lawyer Sarah Cannataci then pointed out that in his own testimony in the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia back in 2020, he had said that he had chosen the "most senior person" on the list of three candidates presented to him by the police.

Cannataci then noted that Scicluna had been advised by somebody in his ministry to disregard one of the three names - then-Assistant Police Commissioner Pierre Calleja - because he would soon retire.

Repubblika is noted that Calleja was disregarded despite having served in the FIAU since its inception and was clearly the most senior of the three - certainly above Valletta who was only a superintendent back then.

Yet Scicluna had described Valletta, not Calleja, as the "most senior person" among the three when testifying in the inquiry. 

The NGO is also concerned about the fact that in reality, Calleja had no intention of retiring, so much so that he was promoted to deputy police commissioner some months later.

Calleja eventually retired from the force in 2016, many years after he was eligible for retirement. 

Calleja testified on Tuesday as well and Cannataci asked him whether he had ever considered resigning from the force before his retirement. He said there was one time in 2011 when he was close to quitting, but it didn't happen.

Tuesday's tribunal session was the first to feature witnesses testifying.

Former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar also testified. Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa and former police commissioner Peter Paul Zammit are set to testify in the upcoming hearings.

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