Disgraced assistant police commissioner Mario Tonna, who stepped down in 2018 following a report of domestic abuse filed by his partner, is one of the contenders for the top post in the police force, Times of Malta can reveal.

Several sources confirmed that Tonna is one of 14 people vying to become police commissioner and who this week attended two events as part of the selection process organised by the Public Service Commission. 

Tonna resigned in January 2018 after it was revealed that his partner had filed a report over domestic abuse. It was alleged that he head-butted her during a late-night argument in December 2017. Tonna at the time headed the police traffic section, which is now in trouble over allegations related to fraud, misappropriation and money laundering. A police investigation is currently under way.  

Lawyers for Tonna say that he was later acquitted of the domestic abuse claims after the main witness would not testify. He has a pending application for his reinstatement, his lawyer said. 

Drink-driving claims

Two months later, Tonna was accused of being involved in a drink-driving incident in Sliema. The former assistant commissioner allegedly drove off after crashing into a number of cars but was subsequently apprehended and questioned by the police.

He also allegedly failed a breathalyser test. His lawyers say he was also later acquitted in court.  

Sources said Tonna, along with the other police commission candidates, has so attended a psychometric test and on Friday was involved in another event where contenders were split into groups and asked to discuss a given situation in the presence of a psychologist. Two members of the Public Service Commission watched from home through video conferencing. 

Sources said the case they had to discuss was how to deal with a fictitious situation in which a Deputy Police Commissioner was having problems engaging with his staff and who had several communication problems.  

The sources said Tonna is currently employed with the Commission for Voluntary Organisations, in charge of vetting NGOs which apply. 

Former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia after he promoted Mario Tonna (on his left) to assistant police commissioner in 2017. Photo: CMRUFormer Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia after he promoted Mario Tonna (on his left) to assistant police commissioner in 2017. Photo: CMRU

Brushes with the law 

Back in 2011, Tonna had been found guilty of various criminal offences, including intimidating and harassing his superior, Superintendent Carmelo Bartolo. He was also found guilty of making inappropriate use of a mobile phone and of committing a crime he was duty-bound to prevent as a police officer.

The incident had happened in November 2008 when Tonna, at the time an inspector, called his direct superior several times on his mobile phone, calling him a “bull” and mimicking animal grunts. Following the calls, Bartolo and his team had found Tonna at a football club in Naxxar and arrested him.

Tonna had refused to hand over his two mobile phones. But after a search, the police had found one of Tonna’s phones hidden in a planter outside the football club. Call logs showed he had called his superior 20 times in 20 minutes without speaking to him.

Following the court’s decision, Tonna was not fired from the force, but was given a conditional discharge.

However, after a change in government and Tonna applied for the post of superintendent, the fourth highest rank in the force. 

Despite this record, he was appointed superintendent in August 2015 and promoted to assistant commissioner two years later.

PN Equality spokesperson Claudette Buttigieg called his application "outrageous".

"Victims of domestic violence do not feel safe at the hands of a police officer accused of domestic violence. How can that same officer have the audacity to apply for the post of Chief of Police," she asked in a Facebook post.

Who has applied to be police commissioner?

The number of applicants and the names of those who applied for the police commissioner post remains shrouded in secrecy after the Public Service Commission refused to publish the full list of applicants, despite it being a public call. 

Sources said not even the contenders themselves know who applied until they met some of them during the selection process. 

The call for applications was issued by the Public Service Commission in the Government Gazette. Applicants were also asked to submit a four-year plan on what they would do in the first years in the position.

The Public Service Commission is in the process of whittling down the number to two who will then face a grilling session on Parliament. 

It has been confirmed that lawyers Mary Muscat, Herman Mula, Frankie Sammut, Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo, legal procurator Sandro Camilleri, current police CEO Angelo Gafa, and Inspectors Robert Vella and Jonathan Ransley have applied.

Apart from Tonna, other people named as having also submitted their application included former police superintendent Raymond Zammit, Emanuel Cassar, a former police officer, Vice Squad Police Inspector Joseph Busuttil, Leo Busuttil, who hails from the banking sector, and captain Reuben Lanfranco, ex AFM maritime squadron.

In reply to an official request for the list of applicants, the commission’s executive secretary told Times of Malta: “The Public Service Commission respects the privacy of applicants and, just as it does in any other selection process, refrains from giving personal information on applicants.”

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