Joseph Muscat’s “bizarre and unprecedented” role in the murder investigation will only serve to fuel public perception of a conflict of interest, a former senior police officer has told The Sunday Times of Malta.
“This degree of involvement by a prime minister in a criminal investigation is unprecedented, as it was always the police who made announcements regarding the progress or not in such cases,” he said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said it was quite bizarre to have a prime minister, rather than the police commissioner, giving daily briefings.
Ironically, this was happening weeks after the police force recruited its first-ever proper spokesman – Brandon Pisani, a reporter who was seconded from State broadcaster TVM – to better coordinate media relationships.
“A prime minister should never interfere in the day-to-day running of any investigation. That is purely police work,” the former officer said.
“Given that there is a potential link to politicians close to Dr Muscat, it is even more unwise for the Prime Minister to take such role.”
Rather than distancing himself from the case, the impression one gets is that he has “hijacked” the investigation, he said.
“Is there really need for politicians to be briefed on each and every detail? What if a politician is involved, which seems to be the case in this investigation?”
The buck should stop with the Commissioner of Police and not the Prime Minister
He insisted that the buck should stop with the Commissioner of Police and not the Prime Minister.
“Is the principle of separation of powers still being applied?”
Such considerations might have wider repercussions in the future, as from now onwards the police might be apprehensive of taking action whenever the case revolved around government politicians.
He recalled that in the past Dr Muscat had been very vociferous against political interference in the police force.
In 2011, when he was Opposition leader, he had called for the resignation of the Prime Minister’s top aide Edgar Galea Curmi for having phoned the then police commissioner John Rizzo. Mr Galea Curmi had requested to speak to the lawyer of Cyrus Engerer’s father – who had been arrested in connection with drug possession – regarding the political implications of the timing of the arrest.
Back then Dr Muscat had accused Mr Galea Curmi of political interference in an investigation, saying: “This is inappropriate in a democratic country.”
The same police official raised questions on the manner in which the possibility of granting a presidential pardon was being handled by the Prime Minister.
In 2013, in the case of George Farrugia and the oil procurement scandal, the option had been put forward by the police and not the Prime Minister.
Similarly, when the scandal of Chief Justice Noel Arrigo erupted in 2002, Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami had only featured once, in a news conference in which he had announced that members of the judiciary were under investigation.
The former senior officer also questioned the timing of Fenech’s arrest, in the wake of Dr Muscat’s remarks that the Prime Minister) had been privy to certain details for two years.
“If the police had been aware of Mr Fenech’s possible involvement, why did it take them so long to question him? After two years, prospects of unearthing any fresh evidence are much lower.”
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