Repubblika objects to adjournment of data protection challenge over FIAU board nominees

Police refused FOI request to provide list of nominees on the boards of FIAU governers - which includes former disgraced deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta

Repubblika President Robert Aquilina
Repubblika President Robert Aquilina

The Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (IDPA) has adjourned to September a case filed over the Commissioner of Police’s refusal to reveal the full list of the police force’s nominees for the Financial Intelligence and Analysis Unit’s (FIAU) board of governors.

The move was described as "harmful to the interests of justice" by the plaintiff, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina.

The Tribunal, chaired by Noel Camilleri, held a sitting this morning in a case dealing with the Police’s refusal of a Freedom of Information request filed in 2020, by Aquilina, over the authorities’ refusal to provide a list of all of the individuals nominated to serve on the board of governors of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit – a list which would include former deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta.

Valletta, who retired from the force in 2019 under a cloud, had been found to have maintained close ties with businessman Yorgen Fenech, who is indicted for conspiracy in the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Valletta was also revealed to have travelled with Fenech to watch a football match in the UK, at a time when Fenech had already been identified as a suspect in the police’s murder investigation.

When the case continued on Tuesday morning, the Tribunal observed that the lawyers for both parties had agreed that it should deliver a single decision, on both the preliminary pleas and the merits. Lawyer Sarah Cannataci, appearing on behalf of Repubblika, requested an adjournment so that its witnesses could be summonsed. But when the Tribunal proposed the next sitting be held in September, this led to an objection by Repubblika President Robert Aquilina, who argued that a great deal of time had already been wasted by no-shows by the Commissioner of Police, who had not been notified about previous sittings and the resignation of the Tribunal’s chairperson during the election period.

“This delay is harmful to the interest of justice. During the last sitting, which took place on March 10, before the general election, the chairperson had chosen to offer his resignation."

"There is no legal provision for this. This means that there is no equality of arms and that this Tribunal is subservient to the [interests of the] Government,” Aquilina submitted this morning.

The chairman rebutted the submissions, saying that “even if not in the law, this [the resignation of the Tribunal’s chairperson before general elections] is a practice that has been adopted since its inception. 

“If you feel your rights are being prejudiced, you know what proceedings to take,” added Camilleri.

“We are in July, I see no reason to delay till September,” Aquilina insisted, but the chairman absolutely would not countenance the request.

“In August everyone needs to rest, I would think you do too,” interrupted the chairman.

Aquilina, undeterred by the interruption, submitted that  “in the two and a half years since I filed this case, the resistance of successive Commissioners of Police has made it difficult [for Repubblika] to act as a watchdog. The information is getting older. I cannot see why we can’t have a sitting in July.”

Lawyer Miguel Degabriele, from the Office of the State Advocate, argued that the law itself imposed a shutdown period on the courts in August.

“I will also be prejudiced,” added the chairman. “[The next sitting] will definitely be on 13 September at 10:00.”

Cannataci informed the tribunal that she would be sending the registry a list of Repubblika’s witnesses by the end of this week, to facilitate the Tribunal in summoning them and allocating sufficient time for the sitting.

In view of the plaintiff’s objection to the delays, the chairman dictated a note, stating “Dr. Aquilina remarked that the tribunal should not have followed the practice, which had been in use since forever, by which the Tribunal officials offer their resignation during the election period. Dr. Aquilina feels that this Tribunal should not have adopted this practice, as he feels that this prejudices his rights.”

Data requested to establish whether former finance minister lied to public inquiry - Repubblika 

In comments to the MaltaToday after the sitting, Aquilina explained the reason for filing the FOI requests. “The tenure of the FIAU’s board of governors is either renewed or its members replaced every three years. Public officials who make up the board, amongst them the Commissioner of Police, are required to submit to the Minister of Finance, lists of at least three candidates to represent them on the board, one of whom is subsequently chosen.

“Up until 2014, Superintendent Pierre Calleja had always featured on the list submitted by the Commissioner of Police. After 2014, however, Calleja was replaced by disgraced former Deputy Commissioner of Police Silvio Valletta, who was later shown to have a conflict of interest, in view of his close friendship with Yorgen Fenech, who is indicted with conspiracy to murder journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia."

“When former finance minister Edward Scicluna had testified before the Public Inquiry into Caruana Galizia’s murder, he had said that Calleja was going to retire from the Police force. This turned out not to be the case and Calleja was subsequently promoted to Deputy Commissioner."

“Therefore the documents being requested are relevant as they would confirm whether Calleja was on the list. If he had been placed on the Commissioner’s list, it wasn’t (former Police Commissioner) Peter Paul Zammit who had excluded him, but Edward Scicluna. If he was not on the list, it was therefore Zammit who excluded him.”