‘No political interference’ in Gozo drugs case, inquiry concludes

Key witnesses identified by MaltaToday not interviewed by board of inquiry • ‘Report is a whitewash and a cover-up’ – Opposition

miriam
Miriam Dalli
8 April 2017, 8:18pm
The government has published the report of the inquiry into allegations of political interference in a drugs trafficking case in Gozo, concluding that no such interference took place.

Both Gozo Minister Anton Refalo and Minister Manuel Mallia – who at the time was home affairs minister – have denied any knowledge of the case.  

Whilst the report makes no reference to the hearings with Refalo and Mallia, a separate letter sent to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reveals that the two ministers were in fact spoken to.

After receiving the inquiry report, Muscat asked Vassallo whether the board had summoned the two ministers for their version of events.

In his reply, Vassallo – a former Labour candidate – confirmed that both Refalo and Mallia had appeared before the board but that their testimony “doesn’t affect the conclusions of the report”.

The Nationalist Party dubbed the conclusions “whitewash” and “a cover-up”, arguing that the board even failed to call in the ministers’ drivers, the security detail, all police officers involved in the investigation and Gozo shadow minister Chris Said to testify.

“The conclusions are a cover-up, from beginning to end,” the PN said, accusing Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of choosing his political interest over the interest of victims of drugs.

Said, who was the first to speak in parliament before MaltaToday started following the case, was not asked to appear before the board of inquiry.

“I have no doubt that this inquiry is a farce, appointed by the Prime Minister intended to hide everything. The inquiry has failed to send for a number of persons who have been identified by MaltaToday to give their version of events, under oath,” Said told MaltaToday.

“I believe that justice will be made one day with those who cannot talk because they are fearful of saying what they have to say, freely.”

Responding to the PN’s press statement, the Labour Party said that the PN had resorted to attacking the inquiry because it disagreed with the conclusions. “Investigations are launched when an allegation is made; conclusions must be respected irrespective of whether it’s to the government’s and opposition’s liking or not.”

The inquiry, led by lawyer John Vassallo, interviewed MaltaToday’s managing editor Saviour Balzan, inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri and Inspector Frank Anthony Tabone.

It also spoke to Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar.

The report makes no reference to numerous individuals identified by Saviour Balzan, including a very well-known Gozitan, whose details were passed on to the inquiry on Monday 3 April.

The 12-page report was presented to the Prime Minister the following day.

“I spoke to Dr John Vassallo on 14 March, in which I reiterated the facts surrounding the story published by MaltaToday. I didn’t divulge the name of my source, but I indicated that they were first-hand sources,” Saviour Balzan said in comments to MaltaToday.

“I explained that the issue surrounded the fact that, one of the persons indicated in the statement of Zael Vella was pinpointed as the drug trafficker. This person was not prosecuted in June 2013.”

Balzan told Vassallo that later that year, Zael Vella was accompanied by her lawyer to the police station where she asked to clarify the statement – a move that occurred after the meeting which allegedly took place at the ministry.

“On Monday 3 April, on the eve of the presentation of the report to the Prime Minister, I gave further specific details on the woman’s lawyer and on the meeting that took place at the ministry.”

MaltaToday’s sources said that Zael Vella had amended her statement as to remove a reference to a young man from Munxar who would have been her source for drugs. The board said that it couldn’t find “anything to satisfy” the allegation.

The inquiry report states that Zael Vella, arrested for drug possession during the Caliente party in Mgarr ix-Xini, released two statements on 16 June, 2013: one at 11.50am and the other at 6.10pm. She was charged in court the following day and handed a suspended sentence.

Inspector Spiteri insisted that Vella “never approached the police, directly or indirectly” to change any of her statements.

According to the inquiry report, Zael Vella had identified her boyfriend, Kevin Vella, as having been the one to give her the drugs, free of charge.

Kevin Vella released just one statement and his case is still pending.

A third man, Christopher Vella of Munxar, was arrested in September 2013 in Marsalforn for the possession of cannabis. A police citation was issued three months later and a sentence was handed on October 2014.

Although Chris Vella was also charged with relapsing, the court rejected the accusation arguing that five years had elapsed and therefore it was not admissible according to law.

The inquiry stated that the Police followed the established procedure against the three youths.

The inquiry also stated that Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar denied that a police escort was provided to accompany a minister to go to Gozo in October 2013.

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...