Updated with Repubblika statement at 11.24am.
The whistleblower whose information led to arrests linked to a driver’s licence racket within Transport Malta was forced to leave the country after his residence permit was unexpectedly revoked, independent election candidate Arnold Cassola said.
In a Times of Malta Talking Point, Cassola said that the man, whom he refers to through the pseudonym Aziz, had lived in Malta for many years and was well integrated into the community, even becoming the secretary of his local Labour Party club.
However, Cassola claimed, Aziz’s permission to remain in the country was revoked in retaliation for his attempts to reveal corruption at the transport agency, forcing him to leave the country he has called home for almost two decades.
Aziz, who worked as a translator with Transport Malta by assisting candidates who spoke neither Maltese nor English during their driving exam, wrote an e-mail to the police detailing a racket in which officials were assisting student drivers in cheating on their exam.
This led to three people, TM director Clint Mansueto and officials Raul Antonio Pace and Philip Edrick Zammit, facing corruption charges.
Testimony in court has revealed that Mansueto would pressure driving test examiners to pass certain candidates that were allegedly flagged by ministries, with multiple examiners testifying to the pressure they face.
Pressured to favour candidates – Mansueto
Mansueto told police interrogators that he felt pressured to favour certain candidates because they enjoyed the favour of a particular, so-far-unnamed minister. Ministers have all denied any knowledge of the racket.
Aziz the whistleblower had come to Malta 18 years ago, having been born in the Jenin Palestinian refugee camp and endured a difficult childhood which included surviving the 2002 raid by Israeli forces on the camp, Cassola said.
He eventually came to Malta and qualified as an interpreter in seven languages, making local friends in Malta, particularly among Arabic-speaking Maltese citizens.
Cassola said that, in 2008, Aziz joined his local Labour Party club where he caught the eye of party officials and eventually became a “special delegate” for the party, keeping tabs on the local Muslim community, encouraging people to vote Labour and engage in fundraising for the party.
After the 2017 elections, Aziz twice applied for Maltese citizenship but was rejected, Cassola said.
It was after this that Aziz decided he would blow the lid off the driving licence racket that was going on at Transport Malta.
‘Tried to reveal information to several high-profile figures’
Cassola said that Aziz claims he tried to reveal his information to several high-profile figures, including former minister Carmelo Abelo, Sandro Craus, from the office of the prime minister, Jesmond Zammit, from Ian Borg’s secretariat, and former parliamentary secretary Alex Muscat, but was ignored.
He then attempted to meet with Minister Borg for close to a year to let him know in person what was going on, Cassola said, but was told to fix a meeting with the Transport Malta chairman instead.
Despite Aziz’s departure from Malta, Cassola said he is still willing to testify during proceedings even if he cannot do so in person.
“This whistleblower could reveal various aspects of this alleged scandal of which he has had first-hand experience,” he said.
Repubblika calls for independent examination of the case
In a reaction to Cassola's opinion piece, rule of law NGO Repubblika said this issue underlined two issues which it had already raised in the past.
The first was the ineffectiveness of the law meant to protect whistleblowers.
"Anyone who reveals corruption should be protected from any detrimental action, for the service they have rendered to the country. The law should stipulate that anyone who is a victim of revenge of whatever kind, should be compensated for this and given protection in order not to be subjected to any form of victimisation and suffering. If our country is really serious about fighting corruption, nobody should fear punishment if they reveal what they know," the NGO said.
It also argued that anyone who has lived in Malta for as long as the person involved in this case, who makes Malta their home, pays taxes, and participates, even voluntarily, in the life of the Maltese community, is Maltese even if they were not born in Malta.
"This fact should be recognised by the granting of Maltese citizenship, which is the right of every Maltese, wherever they may have been born. The refusal to grant citizenship to anyone who deserves it, is a discriminatory act which deprives the person of their fundamental rights. In this case, the person concerned was deprived of the right of not being exiled from his home and his country, because he stepped on the toes of a government minister.
"This is a serious case of injustice, an act of a cruel government that punishes anyone whose sole intention was to reveal whoever was cheating.," it added.
Repubbllika said the issues revealed by Cassola should be investigated in an independent manner and if they are found to be correct, the person concerned should be allowed to return to Malta, granted Maltese citizenship, and be compensated for the hardship he underwent because of the government's vindictive action.