Assistant police commissioner Ian Abdilla testified on Friday in a public inquiry concerning the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.
Abdilla heads the police force’s economic crimes unit.
He said that:
- His boss at the time, Silvio Valletta, had told him to visit Yorgen Fenech at his office [rather than call him in for questioning] after a Times of Malta report revealed that Fenech was the owner of 17 Black
- That meeting was cancelled when Valletta called him as he was making his way there to tell him that Fenech was sick
- Valletta was his superior in the police force at the time when he [Valletta] also sat on the FIAU board
- He met Keith Schembri twice, both times after 2017 and alone. Schembri had called him after reports about him [Schembri] were leaked, he said.
- The economic crimes unit had been 'overwhelmed' with work in 2013. Resources began to increase after the Panama Papers scandal broke.
- Plans to increase the unit's resourcing were expanded further after MoneyVal said they were not ambitious enough.
As it happened
No sessions next week
11.13am Reporters have been asked to leave the room and Abdilla's testimony will now continue in private.
There will be no sessions next week, due to concerns about the coronavirus.
We will have a summary of the key points from today's session available shortly. Thank you for joining us for this live blog.
'I did not know they were friends'
11.11am Lawyer Jason Azzopardi asks Abdilla whether he had asked Valletta how he knew Fenech was unwell.
Abdilla says he did not. He did not know that the two were friends, either, he adds.
The sitting will now continue behind closed doors.
Valletta called Abdilla about Fenech
11.07am Azzopardi asks about a Times of Malta report revealing that Yorgen Fenech owned the once-secret company 17 Black.
He says that Abdilla had been on his way to Fenech’s office to talk to him.
“Who had called you and told you not to have the meeting, when this press report had come out?”
Abdilla tells the court that it was Silvio Valletta who had told him that Fenech was “ill”.
He is asked by the board why he had gone to Fenech’s office, rather than calling him in for questioning.
"The law is equal for all", Lofaro says, reminding him that even judges investigated for bribery had been called in.
Asked who had ordered him to go to Fenech’s office, Abdilla says "I believe it was a suggestion of Silvio Valletta”.
No comment on 17 Black
11.02am Said Pullicino asks Abdilla about 17 Black. The witness says an ongoing magisterial inquiry precludes him from speaking about this in any great detail. He says he would rather speak about it behind closed doors.
11am Azzoaprdi tells the inquiry that AML law allows for investigation orders, attachment orders, and monitoring orders to be made by the police.
Quoting from official police statistics, Azzopardi says that in 2014 there were three investigation and attachment orders, four in 2015, four in 2016, and just one in 2017.
“Wouldn’t you agree that these are low numbers?” Azzopardi says.
Abdilla concedes that the figures are rather low and says that the new statistics for 2018 and 2019 “dwarf” those for previous years. He also adds that he is not responsible for specific investigations, but inspectors are.
That last comment draws a withering comment from Lofaro.
"Are you or aren't you responsible for your unit?" the judge asks the witness.
On Keith Schembri
10.53am Lawyer Jason Azzopardi, who is also representing the Caruana Galizia family, asks whether Abdilla ever communicated with Keith Schembri while he [Abdilla] was in charge of the ECU.
“Yes, I met him twice yes.”
“When?" "After the Egrant affair, post 2017."
"When did you meet him exactly?”
Abdilla says Schembri had called him after "those reports" were leaked.
He's asked which reports he's referring to, and says they were reports related directly to Schembri.
Abdilla says he told Schembri that he should speak to a lawyer about it. Nobody else was present for those meetings, he adds.
Resources between 2013 and 2015
10.47am Given that MoneyVal was critical about the effectiveness of the ECU, Comodini Cachia asks, could Abdilla share his opinion on the resources at the ECU’s disposal between 2013 and 2016?
Abdilla says that following the MoneyVal report, the police had amended their plan for restructuring the police and bolstering resources.
Comodini Cachia: “Between 2013 and 2016, were you the most qualified member of the ECU?
Abdilla also adds that since 2016, more qualified officials had joined, including lawyers.
10.42am Abdilla now recalls the police investigation which formed part of the Egrant inquiry, which he says is now concluded and public domain.
He says the claim that Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad had taken sensitive documents out of the bank was proven to be incorrect thanks to police work.
CCTV footage of the bag in the Ta' Xbiex bank had shown that the only thing taken out of it was a phone charger and a notepad.
Europol joint investigations
10.39am "You said you have a good relationship with Europol. How many joint investigations have you conducted?" Comodini Cachia asks.
"Many", Abdilla says. When pressed on how many of those were based on FIAU reports, he again asks to be allowed to expand on this behind closed doors.
10.34am Abdilla is being asked [by lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia] to be more specific on FIAU reports. But he says he is bound by secrecy.
The board moves to exempt him. But Abdilla tells the board that he has an issue with that too.
“With all due respect, I am an official of the FIAU and am bound by the FIAU law”.
He says there are things he would rather answer behind closed doors.
[The FIAU is established under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.]
10.32am Abdilla is asked whether Silvio Valletta was his superior in the police. Valletta also sat on the board of the FIAU.
"Are we to understand that Valletta was your superior while he sat on the board of the FIAU?" he is asked. "So he would have oversight of your investigations?"
"Yes, he was my superior," Abdilla says.
10.30am Abdilla is asked how many FIAU reports were handed over to the ECU during his tenure, and what action was taken.
Abdilla’s lawyer, Ian Refalo, interjects to say his client cannot prejudice ongoing cases.
The board says it is doing its job by asking questions. If the witness wants to, he can answer behind closed doors. Abdilla tells the board that the FIAU’s annual report gives the exact number of reports handed over to the police.
Relationship with FIAU
10.22am The board of inquiry ask Abdilla to explain the relationship between the ECU he leads and the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.
Abdilla says he is the police’s liaison officer within the FIAU. He never sat on an FIAU board meeting, and as liaison officer, his relationship was about the day-to-day relationship between the police and the FIAU.
10.19am The board of inquiry is keen on specifics - who was in charge of what at a particular time. Most answers begin with a variation of "Well, it's difficult to say...", with Abdilla talking about changing responsibilities, officers retiring and others being promoted.
'It was once this trouble started'
10.14am Lofaro asks whether it was the 2016 Panama Papers leak that led to the ECU getting increased resources.
Abdilla says “it was once this trouble [inkwiet] started”. Asked to specify what trouble he is referring to, Abilla says “the Panama Papers and so on”.
10.12am The board wants to know whether Abdilla felt he had enough staff to meet the demands of the job. He says that in 2013 he was just an inspector within the ECU and recalls the workload being overwhelming.
“We had cases that had a political tint back then too,” he says.
How many officers?
10.05am Abdilla is being pressed to say how many officers were under his command when he took over as superintendent responsible for the ECU in 2015.
He says it is difficult to pin it down, as the number of inspectors is constantly in flux. He also adds that his job was to run the unit. Staffing was ultimately the police commissioner's responsibility. Michael Cassar was police commissioner at the time, he says, and he had beefed up the ECU.
Resources in 2013
10am The anti-money laundering (AML) unit currently has four investigators. Abdilla says he expects that to increase to 22 in a few years. This, he says, is part of a comprehensive plan that was amended following the MoneyVal assessment.
Asked about resources back in 2013, Abdilla says there were six or seven inspectors in the ECU and one or two in the AML unit.
9.58am Abdilla says that there are plans to increase funding and the qualifications of staff.
Currently, inspectors within the ECU have a diploma in financial crime. Abdilla says he expects that to be upped to an undergrad or Masters degree.
There are plans to develop a new modern facility away from police HQ to host roughly 120 members, he says.
Judge Lofaro notes that Abdilla seems to have many more resources at his disposal than other police units, such as Keith Arnaud’s homicide squad.
“I can’t comment on other units,” Abdilla says. He notes that the fight against financial crime has grown in importance across the globe.
What does the economic crimes unit do?
9.52am Abdilla is giving the board an overview of the ECU, its resources, and its remit.
He says that in 2016 the unit was split into two, with a financial crimes investigation unit and an anti-money laundering unit.
He is responsible for both.
Ian Abdilla testifies
9.50am Abdilla tells the court that he graduated as an accountant, and joined the force in December 2001 as an inspector. He's always been with the economic crimes unit, he adds.
Dossier of evidence
9.45am Corinne Vella is submitting a dossier of evidence concerning Abdilla, as she has done for several other witnesses called to testify. Vella is one of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sisters.
The dossier is mostly focused on the Panama Papers, reports into an investigation concerning the daughters of former EU commissioner John Dalli, as well as extracts from that MoneyVal report which could lead to Malta being blacklisted.
All the information is open source, Vella tells the board of inquiry.
Court in session
9.42am The board of inquiry are present and Friday's session can begin.
Refalo's new inquiry role
9.40am Ian Refalo will be assisting the witness, Ian Abdilla, today. But he was originally meant to be on the other side of the bench.
Refalo was one of the men originally nominated to the board of inquiry.
But the Caruana Galizia family had objected to his nomination, as well as that of Anthony Abela Medici. Following talks with the government, the two men were taken off the board and replaced with Said Pullicino and Lofaro.
About the inquiry
9.38am The inquiry was announced back in September 2019 following pressure from the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly for the government to do so.
The inquiry’s board is made up of former judge Michael Mallia, chief justice emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino, and judge Abigail Lofaro.
Public or not?
9.33am Abdilla is being represented by lawyer Ian Refalo.
Legal sources say it is likely that the bulk of his testimony will be heard behind closed doors, due to the sensitive nature of police investigations into money laundering.
We'll just have to wait and see.
About Ian Abdilla
9.31am Of particular concern to the inquiry is the Abdilla-lead investigation into alleged Daphne Caruana Galizia murder conspirator Yorgen Fenech and his once-secret offshore holding 17 Black. Times of Malta and Reuters named Fenech as 17 Black’s owner in November 2018.
Times of Malta has since reported that the investigation remains stalled following a botched attempt by the economic crimes unit to obtain information from Dubai about the mystery company's activities.
The unit Abdilla leads was also singled out in a damning assessment of Malta's anti-money laundering regime, which gave the country one year to get its act in order or face potential blacklisting.
What happened last time?
9.28am The inquiry held a session on Wednesday, when police inspector Keith Arnaud and the director of the department of information, Paul Azzopardi, testified. Here's what happened during that sitting.
9.26am Good morning and welcome to this live blog. Today's court session is expected to begin at around 9.30am.