Driving test corruption case: ‘We were told to close an eye, sometimes both’

Driving test examiners tell court how they were pressured by their superiors to be lenient with select candidates in the theory and driving tests

Driving test examiners were asked to be lenient and merciful with select candidates
Driving test examiners were asked to be lenient and merciful with select candidates

Three driving examiners have told a court that they had been instructed by their superiors to be extra lenient towards certain politically connected candidates.

Magistrate Rachel Montebello presided as the compilation of evidence against the director of Transport Malta's Land Transport Directorate Clint Mansueto, former Żebbuġ Labour councillor Philip Edrick Zammit and Raul Antonio Pace, continued on Tuesday morning. 

The men are pleading not guilty to charges relating to corruption and bribery in relation to driving tests.

Before hearing their testimony, the prosecution confirmed that there were no plans to prosecute the witnesses in connection with this investigation. 

The court turned down a request to order a ban on the publication of the men’s names, made by their lawyer.

A representative from mobile phone service provider Epic testified about the numbers from which messages to Mansueto had originated. One was registered to the Ministry Foreign Affairs and Trade and another to Maria Assunta Camilleri, who stands charged with bribery of a public official in separate proceedings relating to the same investigation.

Driving examiner Demetrius Psaila took the stand first, recognising the accused men in the dock. Mansueto was the senior official, the others were clerks at Transport Malta, he said. 

Prosecutor Abigail Caruana Vella asked what type of communication he had with the accused, besides receiving the lists of candidates from them.

Mansueto had taught him about the testing procedure, he said. “From the beginning, he told me that there were tests in which you needed to close one eye or even both, theory and practical. I was starting at a new job and I obeyed the director. Setting the standard for testing was not my job. There were tests in which I did close both eyes,” he said.

This had happened several times, he said. “Mexxi ħa jgħaddu (get on with it so they pass),” he remembered being told.

“As soon as I started, Mansueto told me that there were tests where you had to let things slide. We were taught that way.”

“Who taught you this?” Caruana Vella asked. “Clint Mansueto,” replied the witness.

“But then, when I started to gain more confidence, I stopped doing this and would pass or fail candidates on their performance.”

Asked about Zammit and Pace’s involvement, he said Pace would hand out the packets of test documents. “[Pace] would tell me ‘this is the one that Clint had told you about.’”

“If Clint was present… he’d say ‘[candidate], qaċċat,ħa jgħaddi.’” If Clint wasn’t there, Philip Edrick would tell me to do it.”

‘I felt pressured’

The second witness, driving examiner Kevin Debono, told the court that he had been examining drivers for five and a half years. In the past, he would occasionally assist with theory exams, reading out the questions and multiple choice answers to candidates who had difficulty reading, but had since stopped.

“Sometimes there would be cases where my supervisor Clint Mansueto or Raul would tell me to ‘see if I could help’ certain candidates,” he said,

“I didn’t feel comfortable doing this. If a candidate took an interest and showed me that he had studied, I would sort of give a hint, but not the answer.”  He would not help candidates who had clearly just turned up to do the test just expecting to pass, he said.

Debono explained that sometimes there would be candidates he was assisting who would seem to know how to read a little. Others would clearly struggle with reading. “Some of them would come and expect me to do it for them, which they didn’t have a chance of me doing…”

Some of the candidates he was detailed to assist with reading clearly didn’t need help with reading, said the witness.

“They [the accused] would tell me, ‘help this one a bit, take care of this one. Don’t thrash him.” They wouldn’t give a reason for this, said the witness. “I didn’t like this, I felt pressured. I always use the same measure for everybody.”

Mercy with ministry employees and complainants to Castille

A third driving examiner Mark Tabone was the last to testify today. His direct superior is Pierre Montebello, but for the eight years before that, it was Clint Mansueto, he said.

Caruana Vella asked him about communications with the accused. Pace would hand him the test papers every day, said the witness.  “He would tell me what the work was… every day I’d get the packet of test papers.” The court asked what Mansueto or Pace would tell him about the packets. “Nothing. He’d just pass them out to us.”

Pressed on this point, the witness said that he would occasionally be instructed to be more lenient towards certain candidates.  “It would happen in the office. How do I say, not to press them too hard. Because of links to the ministry or to Castille.” Only Mansueto would tell him this, he said. The requests “would not be regular”, said the witness. “Maybe two a month.”

He did not recall being spoken to by Pace about particular tests, he said.

When Mansueto would not be at the office, it would be a normal day at work, he said. When he was, however, Mansueto would ask him “to be more merciful with them, because they worked at the ministry or had gone to Castille to make a complaint”.

“To be more lenient with them… It makes you disquieted, but you’d try and make the candidates more comfortable by talking and joking with them. Maybe take them through less busy roads for the test,” Tabone testified.

Tabone also confirmed that it was only with respect to these candidates that he would inform Manueto about their performance.

The same happened with respect to the “lenient” theory tests, the witness went on, which would have a distinctive mark or Mansueto would have spoken to him about beforehand. 

Tabone was asked what form the assistance would take in theory tests. He replied “you make the person think twice if you see them going to select the wrong option… most of them would be people who didn’t have a good IQ or memory. Sometimes they would select options on the monitor without me reading to them and I’d think ‘so they know how to read.’”

Magistrate Montebello asked the witness whether he would do this with other candidates. “No, only for those indicated by Mansueto,” he replied.

The case was adjourned to December.

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

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