Edward Scicluna tells tribunal he 'exercised his discretion' when selecting Silvio Valletta for FIAU board

Former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna testifies in proceedings filed by Repubblika president Robert Aquilina before the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal

Former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna
Former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna

Former finance minister Edward Scicluna has told a tribunal that he had exercised his discretion in selecting ex-Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta to the FIAU’s Governance Board.

The statement seemingly contradicts his testimony before the Public Inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Professor Edward Scicluna, Minister for Finance between 2013 and 2020 testified this morning in proceedings filed by Repubblika president Robert Aquilina before the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal (IDPA).

The Tribunal, chaired by Noel Camilleri, is hearing evidence in Repubblika’s case over the Police’s refusal of a Freedom of Information request asking it 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, who retired in 2019 amidst reports of Valletta’s conflicts of interest with both the Government and Yorgen Fenech.

In his testimony, Prof. Scicluna told the tribunal that under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the minister is empowered to nominate FIAU board members. “It is the prerogative of the minister, every minister, to appoint individuals to the board… he is called a political appointee, in fact.”

This prerogative was not limited to the FIAU board, Scicluna said, pointing out that, for example, the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) board included “three nominees who are, from the minister's point of view, qualified to sit on the board.”

“I don’t think the persons who nominate individuals wouldn’t know what they are doing. There is no ranking, any one of the three are eligible,” Scicluna said, in reply to a question by Repubblika’s lawyer Sarah Cannataci.

Asked about the appointment of Silvio Valletta, Scicluna was categorical. “I repeat, it was my prerogative and I don’t need to justify it.”

The Tribunal asked Cannataci to give some context to her questions. Cannataci complied, confronting the witness with testimony that he had given to the public inquiry into the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, on 12 August 2020, in which he Scicluna had said that Valletta was selected on the basis of seniority.

She pointed out that one of the other candidates, Scicluna’s then Chief of Staff, would have reached retirement age before the expiration of the position’s term.

“This wasn’t an appointment with rankings and so on, they [the candidates] are put forward…the decision is mine,” Scicluna said.

The Tribunal Chairman explained that the appellant was asking for the names of the other candidates, which were not in the public domain. Scicluna replied that he assumed that those individuals would not even have known that they were nominated for the position.

Cannataci bound herself to exhibit a legal copy of Scicluna’s testimony before the public inquiry within 15 days.

But the candidate who Scicluna had been told was about to retire, former Deputy Commissioner of Police Pierre Calleja -a Superintendent at the time, did not. 

Calleja had served as the person nominated to the FIAU board by the Commissioner of Police since the board’s inception and had been the most senior police officer on the board. 

Far from retiring, Calleja had stayed on and was later promoted to Deputy Commissioner. 

Former police chief Lawrence Cutajar
Former police chief Lawrence Cutajar

Repubblika are arguing that at the time of the FIAU board’s selection, Calleja had told MaltaToday that his retirement was a “long way off.” The implication Repubblika is making is that despite having made this declaration, Calleja had left the force just two years later. His departure from the police force, and therefore, the FIAU board, cleared the way for Silvio Valletta's appointment to the board, they say.

Calleja, who retired in 2016, after 29 years of service in the police force, also took the stand today. 

Cannataci asked whether he had ever considered quitting the force before his retirement. 

“There are times in the police when you want to resign but then the sense of duty kicks in again,” Calleja replied. He recalled that there had been a time, in 2011, when he had been close to resigning. “It was touch and go,” he said.

Also testifying this morning was former Commissioner of Police Lawrence Cutajar, who occupied the post between 2016 and 2020.

Examining Cutajar on the stand, Cannataci asked who had drawn up the list of nominees for the Board of Governors for the FIAU.

“I can’t answer that, but when I became commissioner in 2016, the FIAU board was already constituted,” he said.

The lawyer asked whether he remembered who had created the updated list in 2017, during his tenure as Commissioner of Police, explaining that the Commissioner of Police had been ordered by the Data Protection Commissioner to exhibit a redacted version to the plaintiff.

Cutajar replied that he wanted to refer to the document, which hadn’t been exhibited, as he did not want to rely on his memory.

The appellant asked to exhibit a four-page document in which the nominees were listed.

The current Commissioner of Police, Angelo Gafa, present during this morning’s sitting, did not object to this document being exhibited.

After looking at the exhibit, Cutajar confirmed that his signature was on the document.

Cannataci asked what grade the nominees occupied in the public service. “The law does not impose a limitation on grades in nominations,” she pointed out.

“You’re right,” Cutajar replied, “but the normal practice is that nominees are selected from the ranks of Superintendent and above.”

Cannataci asked how the 2019 list had been communicated to Cutajar. He confirmed that it was through his official government email address and that he had created the list himself.

Lawyer Miguel Degabriele, representing the Office of the State Advocate, reserved his right to cross-examine the witnesses at a later stage.

The case continues in October.