‘We’re in the middle of a tsunami, but I want to bring the ship to port’

The new Financial Crimes Investigation Department made headlines with the interrogations of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri. AC Alexandra Mamo says she is determined to make headway on financial crime

AC Alessandra Mamo
AC Alessandra Mamo

The new head of the police’s Financial Crimes Investigations Department (formerly the Economic Crimes Unit), says her unit has managed to succesfully prosecute cases of money laundering despite the difficult nature of such investigations.

Arraignments on major fraud and money laundering, even when perpetrated by prominent people and politically exposed persons (PEPs) need to be investigated carefully because their digital nature implies that evidence can be very hard to come by, Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo said.

And although some might think that only people accused of relatively “more innocuous” fraud and money laundering are brought up in front of a magistrate, her unit was not simply chasing the small fry.

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“Very often, investigations require cooperation from various other entities, local and foreign. Gathering the information in itself could be a lengthy process, and so are analysis and investigation. The nature of these crimes, mostly being carried out digitally on computers, moving numbers around, means that our investigations must be a hundred per cent on point, to be able to prove without a shadow of a doubt what happened. We very rarely have smoking guns, there are no murder weapons to be found, or fingerprints to be examined. And yet, we are successful.”

Mamo was appointed head of the FCID on 1 July and since then, she said, her department had charged 15 people and one commercial entity with money laundering in eight cases brought to court.

She oversees two units: one investigates money laundering and the financing of terrorism and the other focuses on economic crimes. A superintendent is in charge of each unit, with 21 inspectors and investigating teams overall.

The department is based in new offices in Santa Venera, where Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri were brought under arrest for interrogation at the beginning of this week. The offices include interrogation rooms and lock-up cells just for this purpose.

“We are in the middle of a tsunami, but I want to bring this ship to port, despite the tide being against us,” she said. “The work is stressful and we are constantly under scrutiny, but I am determined to make this department a success.”

And that does not necessarily mean convictions and arrests, because her department is also tasked with a myriad of other duties. Chief among these at the moment is the police corps’ report for Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s monitoring body entrusted with the task of assessing compliance with the principal international standards to counter money laundering and the financing of terrorism, and which will decide if Malta is to be grey-listed in its upcoming report.

“I want to be sure that our contribution to Moneyval helps raise our standing,” Mamo said.

She said she had found a lot of cooperation by Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà but insisted that he has never interfered in her work or that of her subordinates. Nor has she met any political interference. “Absolutely not. Never and no one,” she said.

Mamo said that her dealings with foreign counterparts highlighted the need for the department to be constantly aware of developments in the field, although she claims the quality and level of training of Maltese investigators compared quite favourably to those abroad. “Some of our officers are lawyers, others are accountants and graduates in business management,” she said. “But we all submit ourselves to continuous training and research, and that is indispensable in our line of work.”

That work includes continuing so-called ‘high complex investigations’ launched before Mamo took over the department, with some of those cases involving PEPs and most being part of a magisterial inquiry. “When I took over, I told my team to review all the open pending cases and to determine whether any of them needed to be closed without leading to any prosecution, because that would not be fair on the persons involved,” Mamo said. “But these high complex cases will remain open and we will pursue our analysis and investigations.”

She insisted that each case is tackled with the same zeal and attention, irrespective of the subject under investigation. Because to do otherwise, she said, would be a breach of the oath each officer takes upon joining the corps.

Mamo is also the only one woman of 13 assistant commissioners, but she says she enjoys a very close camraderie with her colleagues. “Women in the corps are no longer a rare oddity,” she said. “I am glad that more women officers are rising in the ranks every year, as I believe we have a lot to offer, as much as the men at least.”

And after 31 years in the corps, AC Mamo recognises it takes sacrifice and determination to reach the success she has, but she says she would do it all over again if she had to. “No regrets, none whatsoever,” she said.