Driving licence racket whistleblower testifies via video link

The man who blew the whistle on the Transport Malta driving licence corruption racket has begun testifying in the compilation of evidence against three former officials accused of corruption

The man who blew the whistle on the Transport Malta driving licence corruption racket has begun testifying in the compilation of evidence against three former officials accused of corruption.

The man, who was referred to by independent politician Arnold Cassola by the pseudonym “Aziz,” addressed Magistrate Rachel Montebello’s courtroom on Thursday, via a video link at his request, for his own safety, as the case against former TM officials Clint Mansueto, Raul Antonio Pace and Philip Edrick Zammit continued. 

The whistleblower had sent an email to the police in 2020 to inform them of the racket. His email had led to the investigation which landed the defendants in the dock, accused of accepting bribes in return for helping particular candidates to pass their driving test. 

Aziz had told the police that he was often engaged as an interpreter to assist the non-English speaking candidates in their theory test.  He was supposed to read out and translate questions for the benefit of the candidates, but claimed that Mansueto had asked him on several occasions to guide particular candidates, who had been earmarked for special treatment by ministries or the Office of the Prime Minister, to the correct answer.

Aziz had applied to the court for authorisation to testify, which was granted in September and adjourned to today.

But when the video connection was established, it immediately became evident that the witness spoke Maltese with a thick Arabic accent that was hard to decipher at times, 

Asked by the magistrate as to where he currently was, Aziz, who had fled Malta fearing for his life, declined to disclose his location, limiting himself to stating that he was “in a safe place” abroad. He explained that he had to leave for security reasons. 

For identification purposes, he showed his Maltese residence permit, which had since expired, on his mobile phone, but the video feed’s image quality was too poor to be useful and he was ordered to exhibit the physical document at the next sitting.

The witness told the court that he had arrived in Malta in November 2006, leaving the islands on October 8, 2021. 

A certain Sylvana Bartolo had introduced him to Transport Malta as an interpreter in November 2015, after he was tested on his linguistic capabilities, he said.

The man said that Mansueto or his clerks would send him emails with details of upcoming tests which required interpreters and he would send a reply with his availability, he said. In a follow up email, he would be told the timings as well as the languages he would be required to translate to and from, which included Arabic, Italian and French.

Prosecutor Angele Caruana Vella asked how he would be paid, but the witness did not understand the question, replying about how he would submit VAT receipts at Transport Malta’s Lija offices.

A combination of the language barrier and the poor-quality connection made communication difficult, and the witness frequently had to be asked to repeat his garbled answers slowly and to enunciate the words clearly.

He told the court that he would receive the payments directly into his bank account and would then issue fiscal receipts which he would hand in at Transport Malta’s HR office.

Mansueto would choose the translator out of the pool of available language specialists, he said.

After the 2017 elections, Sylvana Bartolo had left the authority and was replaced by Mansueto, he said adding that Mansueto “started to feel that there was no one above him. Lots of abuse took place.”

But the witness was prevented from explaining further due to an evident language barrier that made it difficult for the Malta side of the conversation to make out what he was trying to say.

Magistrate Montebello remarked that had the witness informed the court that he had problems communicating in Maltese when he filed his application to testify, the court would have been able to provide an interpreter. 

After discussing the matter with the lawyers for both sides, the court suspended Aziz’s testimony, to resume in the next sitting, when an Arabic language interpreter would be available to assist the witness.

Lawyer Abigail Caruana Vella from the Office of the Attorney General and Inspector Wayne Borg prosecuted. 

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri assisted Mansueto. 

Lawyer Joe Giglio assisted Pace. Lawyer Herman Mula assisted Zammit.