Car driving test bribery: Ministerial lists, a ONE reporter and a teenager called Galdes

Court hears how police have not yet spoken to those who instigated the corruption at Transport Malta in driving test bribery case

The police inspector investigating the bribery of Transport Malta officials has told a court that he has not yet spoken to the people suspected of instigating the bribery.

Despite the court having been told about an implicated minister, lists of candidates from different ministries, and the involvement of people linked to "a political party", police have not yet questioned those who allegedly ordered Transport Malta officials to give preferential treatment to certain candidates in their driving tests. 

The compilation of evidence against Transport Malta director for the Land Transport Directorate Clint Mansueto, former Żebbuġ Labour councillor Philip Edrick Zammit and Raul Antonio Pace continued before magistrate Rachel Montebello earlier on Thursday. The three are pleading not guilty to charges of corruption and trading in influence.

In a previous sitting, the court had heard Inspector Wayne Borg testify that the investigation had started after the police received a report that driving test candidates who did not require an interpreter were still being assigned one, the implication being that the interpreter was actually providing the candidates with the answers to the test.

When he was questioned, Mansueto had told the police that he was placed under pressure by a minister, who was not named in court, into helping certain individuals pass their driving test. These individuals had been carrying out works at the minister’s villa.

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Prosecuting inspector Wayne Rodney Borg took the witness stand to exhibit arrest warrants and statements released by the accused.

Lawyer Herman Mula, assisting Philip Edrick Zammit, asked the inspector whether he knew how long Zammit had been working at Transport Malta. This was not clear from the chats that the investigation had seen, the inspector replied. “Zammit assisted us during the searches at Transport Malta and mostly chose not to answer questions during his interrogation.”

Raul Antonio Pace’s lawyer, Joe Giglio, also cross-examined Inspector Borg, who confirmed that Pace was a clerk at Transport Malta, under the management of Clint Mansueto, who had been the director of the licencing department.

Giglio suggested that Pace had not been working there for a long time before his arrest. Borg replied that he was not sure, but confirmed that the directorate’s procedures had been established long before Pace’s arrival.

The lawyer suggested that the investigation had discovered that the interpreter had followed the instructions he had been given to ensure that the candidate’s replies were correct and that he had done so because he was afraid of losing his job. “Yes, and the interpreter was also a friend of Clint,” replied the inspector.

Text conversations presented in court

The conversations exhibited in evidence showed that a certain Maria Sunta Camilleri had been sending texts to Mansueto about her nephew, a certain Galdes, Giglio said. “In the chat, Pace informs Mansueto that there is Galdes’ aunt involved.”

Her interest was to ensure the nephew passed the exam, he said.

Giglio observed that Mansueto would also receive messages from persons with ties to a political party. Asked what party, the witness was evasive. “I can’t say exactly, they [the candidates] would be listed by name and ministry,” he said. “Ministries of the current government?” asked Giglio. The witness’ mumbled reply seemed to indicate that they were.

Inspector Borg replied that “one must also bear in mind that there were good interventions as well as bad ones, where ordinary people were referred to TM."

Arab nationals

The lawyer made reference to a particular test, of three “Arab nationals.” The translator had told the police that he had been placed under pressure to ensure that they pass because they were working on a villa belonging to a certain minister, said Giglio. “Who is this Minister?”

Magistrate Rachel Montebello intervened at that point, rebuking the lawyer and warning him against “using the court as a political platform.”

Giglio replied that there are several scenarios where the prosecution is alleging that his client was involved and that one of them involved a Minister.

No knowledge of minister involved

Reading from his notes, the inspector said that Mansueto had not replied when asked whether any particular minister was involved, only saying that they had been working on a Minister’s villa.

“if you don’t know who these politicians are, have you at least spoken to the people who instigated this process?” Giglio asked. “Investigations are ongoing,” replied the witness. “We are speaking to them.”

The court, too, asked this question, pressing the witness for an answer.

Giglio tried again. “You are investigating Maria Camilleri for giving money to Mansueto. The persons in this ministry or wherever, who initiated what you are calling a private interest - do you know who they are or not?”

“Investigations are ongoing,” repeated the inspector.  The court asked whether these persons were mentioned in any of the chats exhibited by the police, but was informed by Giglio that in the evidence exhibited so far, only the names of the persons seeking the favours were listed.

READ ALSOIan Borg denies pressuring transport officials in driving test scandal

Asked by the lawyer whether Pace had exerted influence in such a way as to merit the charge of trading in influence, Inspector Borg replied that he had been an accomplice in it, by sending outside working hours, confirming the names of who should benefit the next day.

“He was giving assistance,” said the inspector.

“Besides this, did it emerge that he traded in influence?,” pressed Giglio. “Voluntarily as such, I don’t think so,” the witness replied.

Probed further by the lawyer, Inspector Borg said that “it [assertions of undue influence] could have emerged in the investigations. When Clint told Raul to inform the examiners, there could have been complicity.”

People who sought favours not yet interrogated

Asked whether other individuals involved in this process had been identified during the investigation, the witness replied that a Transport Malta employee, who had passed on information to Mansueto that had helped him get the directorship job, “might” face charges.

But Giglio said this was not what he had asked about. “What i asked you was whether you have interrogated the individuals identified in the USB stick.”

“Not yet,” came back the reply.

Neither does it look like action will be taken against the interpreter alleged to have been involved in the racket, as the inspector explained that he was no longer in the Maltese islands.

Driving examiners will not face charges

Giglio pointed out that one of the examiners had told the police that they were uncomfortable  about not following Mansueto’s instructions. “Yes,” the witness replied, “because Raul would go when Mansueto was not present.“

“The suggestion did not come from a lowly clerk,” remarked Giglio.

Asked whether the examiners would be facing charges, the inspector replied: “no, they are witnesses.”

Pressure came from multiple ministries

“So we’ve established that they came from various ministries,” suggested the lawyer. “They came from everywhere,” replied the Inspector.

Under pressure to indicate the person or persons who had instigated this assistance to several people, including a reporter from ONE, the Labour Party’s own media organ, the inspector replied that they had not been spoken to by the police yet.

Giglio said he needed to be told who had instigated the corruption, as the persons mentioned were either ignored or nothing had been done. “How can a clerk be charged with forgery when the person who instigated it is unknown to the prosecution.”

READ ALSOLabour Party denies link to driving test corruption scandal

“I don’t know what to tell you. We are still investigating and there are many chats. I cannot single people out,  because in the chats, Clint would, for example, be told about problems concerning applications and I would need to verify whether it was true or not. Not every application sent to Mansueto is invalid,” Inspector Borg replied.

GIglio repeated a question originally put to the witness by the court. “I asked you about a particular case, in which Pace is involved and had said ‘answer him, this is a ONE journalist.” There you had a lead. Who instigated this? Did you investigate it?”

“I’m trying to investigate all of them,” replied the inspector. “I cannot remember who had messaged Clint.”

“So you haven’t sent for him?,” asked Giglio. “No,” replied the inspector.

Magistrate demands investigation

The court ordered the witness to step down, to deal with an objection by AG prosecutor Gary Cauchi, who argued that the witness was being cross-examined about things he hadn’t originally testified about.

The court was not impressed by this objection, informing the prosecution that it would be writing to the Commissioner of Police to demand a thorough investigation.

“The fact is there are three people here charged with having a personal stake in government action and the person who instigated all this hasn’t even been spoken to,” protested Giglio. “And the AG is saying that I am prejudicing an investigation,  which hasn’t even started yet!”

All this led him to have “certain reservations,” about the investigation, he said.

When Cauchi suggested that the defence summon them as witnesses, Giglio shouted “You should have summoned them yourself, not me!”

Magistrate Montebello ordered that a transcript of the inspector’s testimony be sent to the Commissioner of Police together with the USB drive “so that every person involved in the actions leading to the crimes which the three are accused of, are investigated as needed and any opportune actions be taken against every person who was involved.”

Giglio then dictated a note in the acts, praising the court for ordering the Commissioner to act, but pointing out that the USB and the chats “had not landed in his lap today.” “What can I do about that?” replied the magistrate.

Mansueto’s lawyer, Arthur Azzopardi, asked the witness whether the police had looked into whether the whistleblower was in a good state of mental health when giving his statement.

Inspector Borg replied that this had not been done, but added that the whistleblower’s account had been corroborated by the correspondence examined by the police. “This is why it took such a long time. We had to look at a large number of chats and examine whether the requests were genuine or not.”

Also giving evidence today was Pierre Montebello, Chief Officer of the Land Directorate at Transport Malta, who testified under caution.

He told the court that  in March last year, police officers had visited his office and requested information. “The chairman at the time gave me the go ahead to pass on the information.

The inspector had forwarded a number of questions and we had sent our replies to them.” He confirmed that the responses were his, adding that he had obtained the information from Clint Mansueto himself.

As the sitting drew to an end, Giglio informed the court that Pace was not contesting prima facie because he didn’t want to simply be discharged, but wanted to be declared not guilty. This sentiment was echoed by the lawyers of the other defendants.

The case continues on September 27.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri are appearing for Mansueto, lawyers Joe Giglio and Roberta Bonello are representing Pace. Lawyer Herman Mula is appearing for Zammit.

Attorney General lawyers Abigail Caruana Vella and Gary Cauchi assisted Inspector Wayne Borg as prosecution.