Police Force sends no representative as Pilatus Inquiry challenge proceedings continue

Senior police officers once again fail to attend a sitting in challenge proceedings filed by Repubblika, in which the NGO is seeking a court order binding the police to take action against top Pilatus Bank officials

Repubblika President Robert Aquilina
Repubblika President Robert Aquilina

Senior police officers once again failed to attend a sitting in challenge proceedings filed by Repubblika, in which the NGO is seeking a court order binding the police to take action against top Pilatus Bank officials.

Deputy Commissioner Sandro Gatt did not turn up for today’s sitting and other senior police officers did not answer their phones when callled from the courtroom. “Call Angelo Gafa” the magistrate ordered her deputy, who had just said she was unable to get through to Superintendent Sandro Camilleri . 

In the last sitting of the challenge proceedings in July, neither the Commissioner of Police nor his lawyer had chosen to attend. Repubblika President Robert Aquilina had started testifying in their absence.

Aquilina resumed testifying today, initially in the absence of his lawyer, Jason Azzopardi,who had stormed out of the courtroom in protest after the magistrate opted to hear another case before Repubblika’s, despite his having waited for nearly two hours after the sitting’s allocated start time. Azzopardi later returned to the courtroom and apologised for his behaviour, after being admonished by the magistrate.

Azzopardi explained that Aquilina was going to exhibit a set of documents that he had been asked to present during the last sitting. He offered to do this today and allow the Commissioner’s or his representative’s cross-examination to take place at a later date.

Returning to the courtroom after taking a phone call, the lawyer informed the magistrate that he had just spoken to Gatt and that the Deputy Commissioner had told him that he was unaware of the sitting. “There must be some internal miscommunication,” suggested the lawyer.

The magistrate made reference to a note which the court had dictated during the previous sitting, in July, for which the Commissioner had also failed to send a formal representative. She noted that the court had also communicated this to Superintendent Sandro Camilleri in an email, but despite this, nobody had turned up in court today to represent the Commissioner.

The court made several unsuccessful communications during the sitting, both to Superintendent Camilleri and the Deputy Commissioner of Police.  Inspector Omar Zammit, who happened to be present in the courtroom in connection with another case, accepted the court’s request that he represent the Commissioner on an amicus curiae.basis 

Magistrate Lia then dictated a note decrying the Commissioner’s behaviour. “It is not acceptable that the court is not informed of who will be representing the Commissioner of Police in these challenge proceedings, in spite of the communications made.

“The court makes it clear that if, within five days, a note is not filed to identify who is representing the Commissioner of Police in these proceedings, it will be constrained to take the necessary decisions to ensure the case’s continuation.”

Robert Aquilina took the witness stand. He exhibited a thick binder containing the inquiry report relating to the magisterial inquiry into the bank to support his claim that the Attorney General had issued an order to not prosecute Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, its operations supervisor Luis Rivera, the bank’s director Ghambari Hamidreza and bank officials Mehmet Tasli and Antoniella Gauci. 

The inquiry report, which Aquilina told the court he had received from a source whose identity he would not disclose, had originally been exhibited as part of the 2020 magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank conducted by magistrate Ian Farrugia. 

Aquilina had subsequently published a book featuring the documents, in April this year.

Answering a number of questions put to him by Magistrate Lia Mag about the provenance of the report, Aquilina confirmed that it “forms part of the proces verbal of the inquiry.” He had taken steps to authenticate the documents and had certified them as such, in his capacity as a notary public.

The witness said he could not provide further information about how the report ended up in his possession as it would put his sources at risk of physical harm.

Aquliina confirmed that he had also seen the original document and that this was how he knew that he was exhibiting a true copy of it. “I am one hundred percent certain that this was the final version with no addendums,” he said.

“And I did not only see this, I also saw other extensive parts of the proces verbal…” said the President of the rule of law NGO confirming for the third time that he had seen the original document, after the inquiry had been concluded.

He declined to disclose how he had been allowed to see the inquiry, citing protection of sources. “I have a fundamental right not to betray my sources,” he said.

The Court warned Aquilina that his statement implied that either the inquiring magistrate, the Attorney General, or the Police had committed a crime by revealing the contents of an inquiry to him. “This will cast a shadow over them,” said the magistrate, warning the witness that this was a “very loaded declaration.”

“The shadow is over the police and Attorney General for not having acted on its conclusions,” Aquilina shot back.

Aquilina also exhibited three internal emails from the police force, which he had transcribed in his own hand.

He was unable to simply submit a printout as the source of the leak would immediately be compromised, he said. The contents of the three emails are published in full here . Aquilina assured the court that the sources had taken the decision to provide him with the documents themselves.

The notary added that he would be summonsing the recipients to confirm the contents of the emails on oath.

Republlika had filed a formal police report on 19 Jan 2022, drawing the attention of the Commissioner of Police to this inquiry, pointing out that it recommended action against the individuals identified, Aquilina said, and exhibited the acknowledgement sent by the police on 19 April 2022.

But despite this the police had not taken action against the bank officials and neither did the police communicate further with Repubblika, Aquilina explained, so challenge proceedings were filed in order for the court to order the Commissioner to follow the inquiring magistrate’s order to press charges and to bring public pressure to bear on him. 

“We later found out that the Police had not only decided not to proceed, but had told the AG to issue a nolle prosequi,” Aquilina said, “the Commissioner of Police refuses to speak with me,” he added, also confirming that he had made no further attempts to contact the Commissioner since then.

During a subsequent meeting with Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Mamo to discuss protection arrangements, Mamo had brought up the subject herself, he said. “She said her conscience was clear about this issue.”

Azzopardi asked what year the inquiry had been concluded. “2020,” replied Aquilna, adding that up till January 2022, when Repubblika filed the formal report, it was public knowledge that the inquiry had been completed.

At the time Jason Azzopardi, then a PN MP, had made a Parliamentary Question to the justice minister about the €7.5 million cost of the inquiry, Aquilina said.”Shortly after Gafa became Commissioner, he had hinted in an interview that there would be significant advances in the Pilatus case.”

When Claudeanne Sant Fournier was arraigned by Inspector Pauline Bonello in 2021, the inspector had declared in open court that the inquiry had been completed, he added.

Aquilina informed the court that the Attorney General had provided further information during Repubblika’s separate, ongoing, proceedings for judicial review of the Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute, but which he could not divulge because of a court order.

“What the notary is saying,” lawyer Jason Azzopardi explained, “ is that in the case before Mr. Justice Falzon Scerri and later Madam Justice Clarke, the State authorities had exhibited certain information which confirms what he just said, but which we cannot divulge at this stage.”

The sitting was adjourned to February next year, when police inspector Claire Borg and former inspectors Pauline Bonello and Keith Vella will testify.