Updated 5.45pm with full charges
At least one unnamed government minister has been linked to a driving theory test corruption case involving three Transport Malta officials.
The three are accused of helping learner drivers cheat in the exam.
Clint Mansueto, 40, a director at Transport Malta, and officials Raul Antonio Pace, 35, and Philip Edrick Zammit, 23, denied corruption charges when they appeared in court on Monday.
Zammit is an independent Żebbuġ councillor, who represented Labour until last month.
The court heard how Mansueto told police under questioning that he felt "pressured" to help certain people pass the test "because they were working at a villa belonging to a government minister".
A police search of his phone also revealed chats with people linked to a political party supplying information about candidates who were to pass their driving test.
And an inspector told the court that one of those who flagged the names was a former Transport Malta official, Donald Gouder, who had given Mansueto information that helped him get his job as a director.
Mansueto faces charges of bribery, unlawful exaction, trading in influence, having a private interest in adjudications and issuing of orders, forgery, fraudulent alteration of acts, making use of false documents and false declarations to a public authority.
He and Zammit were charged with accounting offences, while PAce and Zammit were separately charged with complicity in trading in influence and having a private interest in adjudication or issuing of orders.
All three were charged as public officers of allegedly committing offences they were duty bound to prevent.
Email tipped off probe
Investigations into the alleged racket were triggered by an email sent to the police in 2020.
That email was sent by a translator regularly engaged by the transport authority to assist foreign candidates who did not know Maltese or English during the theory test.
A theory test and a practical test are necessary to obtain a driving licence.
The translator’s job is to read out and translate questions, but the translator claimed that Mansueto contacted him several times to ask him to indicate the correct answer to students.
'Calls from ministries'
Mansueto, who serves as a director at Transport Malta's Land Transport Directorate, is alleged to have summoned the translator to his Floriana office telling him that “one or two candidates needed help” and that he was to hint at the right answer.
“I’m bound (obbligat) in respect of these because I have been getting calls about them from ministries,” Mansueto said.
Two of those candidates were a Pakistani national and an Albanian, while a third was Maltese.
The Pakistani candidate allegedly made it through the test after the translator gave him help with the correct answers. The Albanian candidate was likewise assisted.
Zammit allegedly was present until the tests were over.
Payments in cash
In these cases, the translator received payment in cash from Mansueto rather than through normal invoicing channels.
Details of the racket emerged in court when Inspector Wayne Borg testified at length at the first sitting, explaining how police investigations kicked off after that email by the translator.
Under questioning, Mansueto told police that he was “pressured” to help certain Arab nationals because they were “working at a villa belonging to a government minister".
Police also traced a text sent to a minister complaining of difficulties faced by a foreign candidate in finding a translator and the minister’s message in reply. It was not clear from the court proceedings whether this text referred to the same minister or a cabinet colleague.
Police searched Mansueto’s office at Transport Malta and came across two diaries containing several names, ID numbers and dates of relative driving exams.
His mobile phone also revealed chats with people linked to a political party supplying information about candidates who were to pass their driving test. The political party was not named in court.
Other chats between Pace and his director contained messages wherein Pace asked if “there were any candidates needing a push (imbuttatura)."
Inspector Borg presented documents, including correspondence by means of emails and WhatsApp chats extracted from the mobile phones of the accused. Mansueto’s laptop was also seized when police searched his home.
Examiners conducting driving exams told investigators that Mansueto and Pace would sometimes send for them in the morning, flagging a list of candidates needing help.
Some of those examiners were newcomers and “were afraid to say no, since they feared losing their job,” the inspector testified.
Former superior involved
Among the persons who flagged candidates' names to Mansueto was a former superior of his, Donald Gouder, who had helped him when he applied for the director’s post.
Before sitting for his own exam in October 2020, Gouder had sent Mansueto a screenshot of the score sheet, circling the questions the candidate was to focus on.
So Mansueto was helped unfairly to the disadvantage of the other candidates when going for his director’s post, said the witness.
“It was one helping the other," the inspector said.
Gouder’s son was also allegedly helped in his practical test by an examiner picked by Mansueto.
Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri assisted Mansueto. Lawyers Joe Giglio and Roberta Bonello Felice assisted Pace. Lawyer Herman Mula assisted Zammit.
Giglio told the court he intends to cross-examine the inspector in the next sitting as there was no time on Monday.
Attorney General lawyers Abigail Caruana Vella and Gary Cauchi assisted Inspector Borg as prosecution.
Magistrate Rachel Montebello presided over the case which continues in September.