A police superintendent who is being investigated for suspected overtime abuse involving more than half the members of the police's traffic squad has resigned.
Superintendent Walter Spiteri quit after he came under investigation for his part in the suspected scam, which was revealed by Times of Malta on Tuesday.
His resignation was confirmed by the police on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr Spiteri was in charge of the day-to-day running of the traffic unit and was allegedly found to have claimed motorcycle-related allowances even though he makes use of a chauffeur-driven car. He is expected to face charges of fraud.
Sources said the unit’s duty officer, a police sergeant who ran the administration of the unit and would have dealt directly with overtime requests, also resigned.
More than half the officers in the police traffic squad are being investigated.
The police on Wednesday also raised the number of policemen arrested as part of the investigation to 37, of whom five have since been granted police bail.
The traffic section has some 50 members.
Investigations are being carried out by the economic crimes unit, the police said.
The alleged scam
It is alleged the officers, mainly motorcycle officers, collectively filed for “hundreds of hours” of overtime that they did not carry out over at least three years.
Investigators are also looking into claims that some motorcycle traffic policemen had been misappropriating fuel and using it for their own private vehicles.
The wide-ranging internal fraud investigation into the traffic squad was first brought to the attention of the police in December, by an anonymous letter sent to then-police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar, detailing how officers were cashing in on duties they never performed.
Times of Malta reported on Tuesday that police officers were being investigated in connection with the overtime abuse in what is being considered a ‘major racket’.
Most of the squad’s officers were on Tuesday hauled in for questioning individually and sources close to the probe said that a “general clean up of the unit” would be in order.
In many of the cases reviewed, the sources said, the abuse constituted dereliction of duty, which was a criminal offence.
“We may, unfortunately, have a situation where a number of officers are charged in court over this. It is a sad day when officers have to investigate and charge their own colleagues but we cannot let the bad behaviour of a few cast a dark shadow on the excellent work of other officers who regularly go beyond the call of duty,” a source involved in the investigation said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the police said that arrests were ongoing following weeks of investigations.
It said all measures according to law would be taken and a “contingency plan” had already been prepared to ensure that traffic laws would be enforced.
Sources within the unit who had not been called in for questioning on Tuesday scoffed at the claim that traffic officers were being supported by some sort of back-up plan.
“Head out on the road and see if you spot any motorcycle officers at the moment. The truth is there just aren’t any provisions for such a scenario, save for adding a handful of officers,” one officer said.
Both Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Prime Minister Robert Abela initially refused to confirm how many police officers were involved, saying it was too early.
Dr Abela said it was good that the police force was investigating its own people.
“This confirms that we have a functioning police force. If these investigations lead to people being taken to court or to disciplinary action being taken, then that is what will happen,” Dr Abela added.
The issue, he insisted, was still being investigated and action would be taken depending on the outcome of the ongoing probe.
Asked by Times of Malta whether police officers from other sections could be involved in the alleged racket, Dr Camilleri did not reply.
He said he always insisted that any alleged wrongdoing had to be investigated irrespective of the people it might involve.
PN: Police undermined by the culture of corruption and impunity
The Nationalist Party said the police force was going through a difficult time, having been undermined by the culture of corruption and impunity.
It said the corps needed to turn a new page to regain the people's respect.
The party saluted honest police officers who felt betrayed by the actions of the few among them.
It urged the prime minister to take up its call for the appointment of the new police commissioner to be made by consensus.
In a statement, civil society group Repubblika said the scandal was another link in the chain of abuses, corruption and impunity which had taken over the country.
The scandal was of particular seriousness because it was committed within the police force, which was there to defend the people from abuse.
Abuse on this scale was not the result of one person’s mistake but of a culture which allowed corruption to grow and fester.
The government itself helped to bring about an environment where abuse was acceptable when it allowed the engagement of former police officers with a criminal record.
The lack of police action against former minister Konrad Mizzi and former chief of staff Keith Schembri also sent a message than 'anything goes'.
Repubblika called for the whistleblower who uncovered the scandal to be protected for his courageous act.
37 officers arrested, 5 on bail - police
Later on Wednesday, the police confirmed in a statement that the superintendent had offered his resignation on Tuesday and that this had been accepted.
So far, the police said, a total of 37 officers have been arrested in connection with the alleged scam, of which five had been granted police bail.
On the contingency plan, the police reaffirmed this was in place and that officers from other sections were "assisting with traffic management" using "marked vehicles". LESA and Transport Malta officials were also assisting the police.
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