‘Daewoo accountant’ describes 1999 police interrogation to court

Joseph Ellul Grech pursuing constitutional claim on degrading and inhumane treatment at the hands of police investigators during 1999 defamation charges instigated by former minister John Dalli

Joseph Ellul Grech with his wife, outside the law courts
Joseph Ellul Grech with his wife, outside the law courts

An accountant who has filed a constitutional case claiming degrading and inhuman treatment at the hands of police, told the Constitutional Court that investigators were “in competition with each other firing questions” at him, during an interrogation.

Joseph Ellul Grech, acquitted of involvement in the so-called ‘Daewoo scandal, was acquitted in 2003 of the defamation of former finance minister John Dalli by the alleged circulation of forged bank statements and 20,000 anonymous letters.

Ellul Grech was the accountant to the Daewoo car agency in Malta, owned by Joe Gaffarena, and which subsequently had to close down over an alleged misappropriation of funds. Dalli, then a Nationalist MP in opposition, was engaged as consultant with the company between 1996 and 1998.

Mr Justice Tonio Mallia heard the witness recount his 48-hour arrest, without having been given a caution or having his interrogation recorded. “The room was crammed with officers, who seemed to be in competition amongst themselves, firing questions. They wanted me to admit to crimes I had not committed, but I kept telling them that the people they should investigate were those linked with the Daewoo scandal,” Ellul Grech said.

He said police inspector Raymond Cremona had asked him to sign a ready-made statement. “I never read nor signed any statement. During the 48 hours of my arrest I was handed statements to sign twice, but I always refused.”

Ellul Grech could not remember if the statements had been read to him.

“A lot of papers and documents were put in front of me – papers I had never seen before. One thing I remember for sure is that I was under duress, they interrogated me without offering any sort of nourishment, I was under the influence of heavy painkillers and questioned for long hours without a break. I do not recall what I said completely. I was charged with an offence of which I was eventually acquitted of in court.”

He claimed he felt insulted by Cremona when he asked an officer to buy him a bread roll, and then offered to share a piece with him. “He should have asked me whether I wanted to eat, not offer me half his roll. I was in no condition to accept anything from the police given the way they had treated me.”

The police then took him to St Luke’s Hospital because of a bout of pain. Ellul Grech said the doctor on duty wanted to keep him under observation. “The officers objected. After spending a night awake, in pain, and under the influence of heavy painkillers, I was questioned again. Then I was taken to a cell at the Msida police station.”

Grech said the cell’s floor was filthy, that he was given dirty blankets, and that he even saw vermin. “The station was so primitive that I felt sorry for the policeman on duty.”

Ellul Grech also complained that fingerprints expert police constable Andrew Caruana only presented his report in October 2003, when other experts had concluded their findings back in 1999. “He spent 22 sitting complaining about the vast amount of envelopes from which he had to lift prints. It took him years to conclude a four-page report.”

Ellul Grech said that while out on bail after being charged, plain-clothes police officers were following him, saying that he had recognised them as Daewoo customers and some were former classmates of his. He however said he could not recall their names.

Ellul Grech also claimed that after the Daewoo fall, in 1999 he was about to be employed as an accountant for the Transport Authority (ADT) but his contract was never signed. He said the authority was then under finance minister John Dalli.

But lawyer Susan Sciberras, appearing for the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General, told the court that the contract of employment exhibited during the criminal proceedings bore no company name, and was in fact a very generic contract of employment.

Defamation case

In November 1999, Dalli filed a police report accused Ellul Grech of sending out 20,000 anonymous letters containing a forged bank statement from an overseas bank account in Dalli’s name.

The letters were distributed to the press, together with a bogus copy of a bank statement dated 1994, as well as press reports on the minister’s declaration of assets. The anonymous letter alleged that Dalli had failed to declare assets he held in an overseas bank account. Ellul Grech denied the allegations.

In October 2003, Magistrate Antonio Micallef Trigona acquitted Ellul Grech, saying the prosecution had failed to prove his involvement. He was cleared of defaming Dalli, forging public, commercial or private bank documents and making malicious use of them, fabricating evidence, and evading customs duty and value added tax on hunting knives, two slings, a crossbow, an air pistol, a knuckle-duster and a penknife. However the accountant was convicted of keeping the weapons without a police licence and was fined €116 (Lm50).

Dr Gavin Gulia is appearing for Joseph Ellul Grech while lawyer Susan Sciberras is representing the Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General