Police investigating claims that Abela was accomplice in HSBC heist

Prosecuting inspector tells court new investigation has been ‘opened’ into the failed heist on HSBC Bank’s main office 11 years ago

Police are investigating claims that minister Carmelo Abela was an accomplice in the failed heist on HSBC Bank’s main office 11 years ago, MaltaToday has learnt.

The new investigation started after Abela was publicly linked by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi to allegations made by Daphne Caruana Galizia hitmen Vince Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio.

The minister, who at the time of the heist worked as a senior insurance and statistics officer within the bank’s Department of Security, Health and Safety, has denied any involvement and initiated libel proceedings against Azzopardi.

Muscat, known as il-Koħħu, and Daren Debono (not the ex-footballer by the same name), known as it-Topo, are awaiting trial for their involvement in the daring heist that ended in a shootout with police. A third person, Fabio Psaila, is also awaiting trial.

Sources told MaltaToday that the prosecuting inspector wrote to Judge Giovanni Grixti on 5 May, asking that the Police Commissioner be given a copy of the testimony Abela gave behind closed doors during the compilation of evidence against Muscat and Debono.

Grixti is expected to preside over the trial of the pair when this is appointed.

In the note seen by MaltaToday, Inspector Joseph Mercieca told the judge that following recent allegations involving Carmelo Abela, a witness in the case, the police opened a new investigation.

Mercieca asked for a copy of Abela’s deposition so that the police could “continue its investigations on the case”.

It is unclear why the inspector had to ask the judge for a copy of Abela’s testimony since it is included in the acts of the case, which he would normally have access to as prosecutor.

In his request, the inspector says “in view of the recent allegations against witness Carmelo Abela, the police has opened an investigation anew on the allegations raised.”

The judge informed the Attorney General and Abela of the police’s request. Neither the AG nor Abela, through his lawyer Pawlu Lia, objected to the request but the minister asked to be given a copy of the documents that will be passed on to the police.

MaltaToday is informed that in his submission with the judge, Abela’s lawyer said that his client did not remember testifying in the compilation of evidence but if that was the case he had no problem with the testimony being handed over.

Abela reaction

MaltaToday asked Abela whether he should resign pending the police investigation into the allegations.

He again denied the allegations.

“In the past weeks, not only have I strongly denied these false allegations which I believe are the result of a conspiracy between PN Member of Parliament Jason Azzopardi and criminals who want to get away with murder, but I have also instituted libel proceedings,” he said referring to the MP’s allegations against him.

Azzopardi was the first to moot that a sitting Labour minister was implicated in a major crime, before taking the matter recently in a Facebook post that left nothing to the imagination.

“I believe that the police are obliged to investigate allegations, which are being made over ten years after the mentioned case, at a moment when criminals started lobbying for a presidential pardon. However, I also expect the politician making these allegations to assume responsibility and resign, evident that he has been pushing fabricated lies.

“It stands to reason that I welcome any type of investigation into the allegations made by Azzopardi and his criminal friends. Therefore, as you rightly pointed out in reference to my reply to the police’s request, I have absolutely no difficulty with the police’s access to my deposition.”

Testimony behind closed doors

Abela had testified in February 2011 behind closed doors. The deposition seen by this newspaper shows that Abela had confirmed under oath that he sometimes used the security equipment that produced the electronic access cards, known as Cotag cards, used by bank employees.

However, when confronted by the media with his own testimony last week, Abela insisted he could not recall testifying in the compilation of evidence. Previously, on TVM’s Xtra, Abela said the police had never interrogated him on the heist and did not know the criminals involved in the crime. Abela, however, failed to flag that he had testified as a witness during the compilation of evidence.

Police investigating the heist were always convinced that the thieves had someone on the inside of the bank, who provided them with access cards and video footage of the route they had to take to reach the cash centre.

In a request for a presidential pardon that was eventually turned down, Alfred Degiorgio claimed that he has “direct” information on “a sitting minister” who was an accomplice in the 2010 failed heist. Muscat also recounted to police what Degiorgio had told him.

They did not name Abela but lawyer Jason Azzopardi claimed in a Facebook post that the allegations concerned the minister and that he had been promised €300,000 for providing inside information.

Muscat was jailed for 15 years in February after admitting to the murder of Caruana Galizia in a plea bargain agreement that has seen him turn State’s evidence.

Muscat was also granted a presidential pardon for his involvement in the murder of lawyer Carmel Chircop. Information he provided led to three other men – brothers Adrian and Robert Agius, known as Tal-Maksar, and Jamie Vella – being arrested and charged with involvement in the murders of Chircop and Caruana Galizia.

A second request for pardon on the HSBC heist filed by Muscat was turned down by Cabinet.

Cabinet also turned down a request for pardon filed by Alfred Degiorgio and his brother George, in a session that Abela recused himself from.