The Azzopardi inquiry: third cover-up?

Magistrate Anthony Vella has been asked again by the Attorney General Peter Grech and Police Commissioner John Rizzo to investigate the claims that the CCTV footage on the case of Nicholas Azzopardi has been tampered with.

Answering one of my parliamentary questions, Justice Minister Chris Said told parliament on Monday evening that the courts did not know that court expert Martin Bajada was convicted of fraud before he came to Malta and from being an Air Malta employee, turned into a court expert on fraud.

How is a court expert appointed? Is he/she screened properly? Does having friends in high places help more than any other qualifications and qualities?

Justice Minister Said told parliament that Bajada's choice as a court expert can always be challenged by those involved in a judicial process.

On 29 October 2012, Minister Tonio Fenech, without mentioning Martin Bajada's name, confirmed that he had embezzled £50,000 and that he had been fired by Air Malta.

Air Malta sources say that Wandsworth Court in London found Bajada guilty of fraud as he had forged the signature of his manager to withdraw money from Air Malta's account and use them for his own personal expensive lifestyle which he could not sustain through his personal income in 1992.

Bajada returned to Malta in 1993 and got started on his new job straight away: court expert on forgery.

He boasts that for the past 19 years, he has worked on "more than 1,500 cases concerning homicide, organised crime, money laundering, drug trafficking, misappropriation, theft, fraud, intellectual property rights, computer misuse and questioned documents. Today, at any point in time he would have a workload of around 45 cases".

He was appointed court expert to prepare the CCTV footage for the magisterial inquiry into the death of Nicholas Azzopardi.

Magistrate Anthony Vella has been asked again by the Attorney General Peter Grech and Police Commissioner John Rizzo to investigate the claims that the CCTV footage on the case of Nicholas Azzopardi has been tampered with. Azzopardi died in April 2008 after he had to be hospitalised following an incident in Police HQ where he was being held following his arrest over allegations that he had sexually abused his daughter.

Before I discovered that Bajada had been found guilty of fraud in London in 1992 I saw the CCTV footage prepared by him for the inquiries into the death of Nicholas Azzopardi and found that it has been heavily edited, with entire sequences of important moments in the chain of events having been deleted. 

Judge Albert Manche' and Magistrate Anthony Vella - who led the inquiries - accepted uncritically the CCTV footage edited by court expert Martin Bajada and took his goodwill and integrity for granted, and did not appoint another expert to audit his work. Bajada did not explain to Judge Manche and Magistrate Vella what original CCTV footage he left out and why.

Bajada did not - and was not requested to - prepare a report on what was deleted from the original footage. There are important sequences missing and no explanation has been given why they are missing and whether the original footage is still available. The CCTV footage is edited in a way to corroborate the police evidence. The Manche' and Vella inquiries exonerate the police completely.

Bajada, who prepared the edited CCTV footage, flouted the guidelines he recommended in a talk he gave on 12 January 2012 in a local hotel on the 'Retrieval of video & CCTV evidence' for police investigations.

The fact that the Vella Magisterial inquiry is being reopened and the Nicholas Azzopardi case reinvestigated for the third time shows that things were not done properly from the very beginning.

But on the basis of two inconclusive Appogg/police meetings with the daughter and without investigating and verifying properly the allegations of abuse against Nicholas, and not heeding the advice to proceed cautiously in this case as both husband and wife were mutually accusing each other of physically or sexually abusing their daughter, and without having a forensic psychologist meet the girl and without carrying out a medical examination on the child (as even penetration had been alleged), the police decided that they had enough proof to arrest Nicholas Azzopardi and charge him with the sexual abuse of his daughter.

How was he treated in hospital? Was everything done to save his life so that he could walk out of hospital alive once again, substantiate his claims and recognise his two assailants?

He did not have the opportunity to clear his name in court as the case against him was dropped after he died in hospital following an incident where he ended up at the bottom of the bastion at the back of Police HQ. The police say Nicholas jumped over a wall to escape. On his death bed, he said that he had been beaten up and thrown over the wall.

Dead men tell no tales.

To keep something quiet, kill anyone who knows about it and, since that person is dead... it would be pretty much impossible for them to tell your secret.

Evarist Bartolo is shadow minister for education.

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"Does having friends in high places help" Of course it does! I would go further, and opine that it is the main requisite for dealings where public services are involved.