Lawrence Cutajar sat down with Times of Malta on Monday for an extensive – and unexpected – interview in which he sought to defend himself against claims that he tipped off Daphne Caruana Galizia murder middleman Melvin Theuma.
As the interview progressed, the man who until January led Malta’s police force offered his perspective on a range of topics – from what he makes of his former colleagues to suggestions that Caruana Galizia was stripped of police protection once Labour rose to power.
1. Cutajar on his fellow police officers
Cutajar admits he met with Edwin Brincat, known as il-Ġojja, without the knowledge of inspectors Keith Arnaud and Kurt Zahra, who are prosecuting the Caruana Galizia case.
The two inspectors did their job well, Cutajar said, who however made it clear that their relationship was purely professional.
“We didn’t break bread together,” he said.
Cutajar was more abrupt when asked about his former deputy, Silvio Valletta. Valletta was booted off the Caruana Galizia case by a court of appeal in October 2018. Just days earlier, he had travelled to London to watch a football game with Yorgen Fenech – the man accused of murdering the journalist.
Times of Malta revealed in January how Valletta and Fenech were friendly and had travelled abroad together on holiday more than once. The revelations led Valletta’s wife, Labour MP Justyne Caruana, to resign as Gozo Minister.
Cutajar was adamant that he had no idea that the two men were friends.
“I didn’t even know that he knew him,” the former police chief said. “And then things started to emerge later”.
Cutajar refused to say whether he believed Valletta was leaking information about the case, saying he could only comment on what he saw, which was that Valletta had acted professionally.
As for Economic Crimes Unit Superintendent Raymond Aquilina, Cutajar said he barely knew him.
“I don’t think I’ve ever discussed work with him,” he said.
A court has heard how Melvin Theuma was expecting to be arrested by inspector Aquilina, who was described as “alright” in a recording played in court.
2. Cutajar on Melvin Theuma’s recordings
Cutajar claims his secret meeting with Melvin Theuma’s confidante Edwin Brincat was part of a “plan B” strategy he hatched to ensure police had the best possible chance of obtaining Theuma’s audio recordings.
However, he also says that he was convinced that Theuma would never destroy those audio files, as they were the “guarantee” the middleman held up his sleeve.
Cutajar admits that there was “some panic” within the force when Times of Malta published details of the then-unnamed suspects in the murder, as investigators feared Theuma might get wind that they were on to him.
He says that he was “the happiest man in the world” when the recordings were finally found.
But Cutajar admits that his actions may have cast a pall on the entire police investigation.
“My actions might have raised doubts, I can’t deny it,” he says, though he shot down suggestions that he had been bribed by Theuma’s associate, Brincat.
“I categorically deny that,” he said.
3. Cutajar on Keith Schembri and FIAU reports
Cutajar claims to have only the most fleeting of relationships with Keith Schembri, who until December served as chief of staff at the Office of the Prime Minister.
He says the two men only met on a few occasions, during formal debriefing sessions about the Caruana Galizia case, and laughed off suggestions that Schembri had issued orders related to the case.
“What instructions? To not charge those who committed the crime? I can’t understand what people mean,” he said.
Questions about stalled investigations into financial crime drew a sarcastic response from the former commissioner.
“They’re sitting in a drawer,” Cutajar retorted.
“That’s what some people think. I never had a single pending investigation in three and a half years in the job”.
Reports drafted by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit have indicated that people like Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi may have committed money laundering offences. But those reports have failed to lead to police action.
Cutajar said the investigations, which he described as “highly complex” were still ongoing.
He also highlighted how crime rates had fallen by 10 per cent during his tenure.
“Nobody talks about that,” he said with a hint of bitterness.
Police shortcomings were all a matter of perspective, he said.
“It’s one thing if you’re on the outside looking in, and another if you’re in the [police] corps itself”.
4. Cutajar on protecting Daphne Caruana Galizia
There have been suggestions that Caruana Galizia was stripped of police protection following the change of government in 2013.
But Cutajar, documents in hand, said this was not true.
He said police had been stationed outside the journalist’s family home in Bidnija for two days during the 2008 election, again during the 2013 election and for the 2017 general election.
“The only days when there was a fixed police point [outside the Caruana Galizia family home] was between September 6 and October 3, 2010,” he said. “No commisisoner has changed these instructions since 2010”.
5. Cutajar on why he quit as police chief
Cutajar insists he chose to resign as police commissioner back in January and was not pushed to do so.
He says he made the decision after growing tired of the constant criticism made of him.
“[Minister] Byron Camilleri hadn’t even entered the Home Affairs Ministry and the first question the media asked him was whether he would be keeping me as commissioner,” he says.
“It was too much. I felt it was unfair”.
Cutajar’s version of events differs from that told by Prime Minister Robert Abela. Abela has said on more than one occasion that replacing Cutajar was one of the first decisions he made as prime minister.
Cutajar’s resignation came with its own reward: on the very same day he quit the force, he was made a consultant with the Home Affairs Ministry, earning €31,000 a year.
That job was snatched away from him this week.
“That was the government’s decision and I bow my head to it,” he says of a decision to suspend his consultancy, his voice heavy with resignation.
Hours after the interview took place, a court ordered an investigation into Cutajar, and the Home Affairs Ministry announced that it had terminated his contract.
Watch the full interview with Lawrence Cutajar.
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