Police traffic unit overtime fraud: superintendent, two inspectors charged

Court finds prima facie grounds for indictment of three senior police officers over abuse of overtime allowances

A court has decreed there was sufficient evidence to indict three senior police officers and two police sergeants over abuse of overtime allowances.

Superintendent Walter Spiteri, Inspector Nikolai Sant, Inspector Pierreguido Saliba, Sergeant Clayton Frendo and Sergeant Angelo Briffa were charged with several offences relating to overtime.

Arraigned separately by summons, the five officers, all from the traffic section, pleaded not guilty. 32 police officers are to be charged in total, divided between 4 magistrates.

The alleged abuses with which the five were charged related to overtime duties regarding the construction of a flyover at Marsa. Inspector Bernard Bunce from the police internal affairs unit explained to magistrate Audrey Demicoli that he had received a letter from a whistleblower, alleging that the police would be claiming overtime during office hours.

The extra duties would be requested by non-police agencies, outside police hours. An invoice is issued and police are allocated and extra payments are made to the individual officers by the commissioner, Bunce explained.

Police had used the motorcycle’s Datatrak tracking system, together with invoices from the accounts section and other data to work out the officers’ whereabouts and what they were claiming. Investigators found that very few motorcycles had their Datatrak system working.

“I started investigating Sgt. Norman Xuereb as he was the brain behind the issue. The tracking data would show that the officers wouldn’t be in the Marsa area during the time claimed. All call logs of the police involved were taken,” Bunce said.

Norman Xuereb, the liaison police officer with Infrastructure Malta for whose Marsa flyover project the officers were expected to work on, would handle their overtime. Out of 27 tracking devices installed on police motorcycles, only seven were functioning. The time and place of extra duties would not correspond with the data from the trackers and mobile phone geolocation data. “The majority of cases showed that they were anywhere but where they should have been,” one witness said.

One WPS, Sandra Sillato, who was assigned a desk job, would get fuel payments despite not being assigned a motorcycle, he said.

The global amount of over €47,000 the officers had received was all refunded and so no freezing orders were issued. A magisterial inquiry was instituted and arrest warrants issued in February 2020.

Several WhatsApp group chats were found, in which the officers they would agree on how to work out the extra duties pay. They would agree on one hour or two at a time, instead of full shifts and overlap their duties in this manner, the court was told.

Cross-examining, lawyer Giannella De Marco said that Spiteri had nothing to do with the group chat. Not all of the 38 officers interrogated were on the Infrastructure Malta project, the court was told.

On 11 February, orders were given to arrest everyone in the traffic section. Inspector Sant returned his motorcycle immediately and his office was sealed. Sant said he was using the motorcycle for a year and that it didn’t have a tracking system installed. He said he had been informed by the liaison officer that extra duty for inspectors was to remain on standby in case of problems, and that this did not involve them going on site. Sant had insisted that he would go to work in the morning and return home on standby till 10pm.

But Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi had denied the existence of this arraignment and had complained several times that no officers were there.

Comparison of claims and consumption showed that there was definitely no theft of fuel by the two inspectors, the Superintendent said.

The court was told that it was unclear whether the actual whistleblower had applied for legal protection.

The case was scheduled for the 22 September.

Lawyers Giannella Demarco, Stephen Tonna Lowell and Michael Sciriha were defence counsel. Assistant commissioner Ian Abdilla, Superintendent Jesmond Borg and Inspector Bernard Bunce prosecuted.

Later this afternoon, more cases - Sergeant Clayton Frendo and Sergeant Angelo Briffa- also denied the charges. Frendo was accused of being in Gozo when he had claimed the hours. He had earned some €6000 for the extra duties, which he had since repaid. He also denied the charges. Lawyer Ishmael Psaila defended Frendo. Lawyer Dean Hili appeared for Briffa.