Carmelo Abela on HSBC heist testimony: ‘Prosecution did not ask for me specifically’

Minister changes tack following 'verification' that shows he testified in HSBC heist case • Carmelo Abela insists he is not a suspect and was not cautioned when giving police a statement

Minister Carmelo Abela
Minister Carmelo Abela

Carmelo Abela has admitted testifying in the 2010 HSBC heist case, insisting though that the prosecution did not summon him personally but the bank.

After claiming that he could not remember testifying in the court case, Abela now says that he was only summoned as a bank representative.

The minister had testified behind closed doors in February 2011, in the compilation of evidence against two men accused of carrying out the daring robbery that ended in a shootout with police.

Last week, when asked about his testimony Abela said he could not remember giving evidence in the case but always denied ever being interrogated by the police.

Speaking to MaltaToday on Tuesday, the day after he went to police headquarters out of his own will to give a statement, Abela said it results that when he gave testimony in the compilation of evidence, the police hadn't summoned him specifically.

“Police never investigated or interrogated me since the HSBC heist in 2010 and from verifications I have carried out, it results that the prosecution had generically asked for an HSBC representative to testify and not for me specifically. Eventually, as insurance manager at that time, I represented the bank in court, and it appears that I was only asked to confirm some technical details,” Abela said.

In the testimony seen by MaltaToday, Abela had described his work at the bank at the time and also confirmed that he sometimes used the security equipment to produce access cards, known as Cotag cards. Three other bank representatives from the security department also testified, including the head of security Mario Bartolo.

Daphne Caruana Galizia hitmen Vince Muscat and Alfred Degiorgio have said that “a sitting minister” was on the HSBC heist. They have not publicly named the person and both of them have angled for a presidential pardon. Muscat is awaiting trial for his involvement in the heist, along with Daren Debono, known as it-Topo (not the ex-footballer).

However, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi left nothing to the imagination when in a Facebook post linked the claims made by Muscat and Degiorgio to Abela. Azzopardi also claimed that Abela was promised €300,000 for providing internal bank footage and access cards to the criminals.

Abela has denied the allegations and sued Azzopardi for libel.

MaltaToday reported last Sunday that police have initiated an investigation afresh into the claims involving Abela, with the prosecuting inspector requesting the minister’s deposition from Judge Giovanni Grixti, who is expected to preside over the heist trial.

Judge Giovanni Grixti informed Abela of the police's request to have a copy of his testimony from February 2011
Judge Giovanni Grixti informed Abela of the police's request to have a copy of his testimony from February 2011

In correspondence seen by MaltaToday the police inspector said that “in view of the recent allegations against witness Carmelo Abela, the police has opened an investigation anew on the allegations raised.”

In an unorthodox move, Grixti informed Abela of the inspector’s request, to which the minister reiterated he could not remember testifying but had no problem with his testimony being passed on to the police. Abela’s lawyer also requested a copy of any information passed on to the police.

After the story was published, the Nationalist Party called on Abela to resign from his ministerial post pending the police investigation. Abela reacted by going to police headquarters to give a statement.

Asked whether he should resign, Abela told MaltaToday that he was not under investigation and never was. He insisted the police had a duty to investigate the claims.

“I am not under investigation… when I gave my statement on Monday, the police did not ask me anything or caution me in any way,” the minister said.

Asked if he was given the formal caution by the police official whom he spoke to, Abela reiterated this was not the case.

“The police are obliged to investigate the allegations made by Azzopardi but I am not a suspect. I also gave the police a copy of the sworn statement I had already presented in court in the libel case against Jason Azzopardi, who, despite having until Monday to file his reply, failed to do so,” Abela said.

The minister insisted that he will take every step to protect his integrity, accusing the PN of being in cahoots with criminals.

“It is very evident that the PN’s and the criminals' strategies have converged with the two parties, assisting each other to achieve different aims. Some want to buy their freedom; others want to buy power at all costs,” Abela insisted.

Meanwhile, MaltaToday is informed that the police have spoken to Azzopardi. “Some weeks ago, police talked to Azzopardi to understand how and whether he could help the investigation,” sources said, describing it as a short meeting.

PN MP Jason Azzopardi has linked Abela to claims that 'a sitting minister' was an accomplice in the HSBC heist in 2010
PN MP Jason Azzopardi has linked Abela to claims that 'a sitting minister' was an accomplice in the HSBC heist in 2010

Investigators have always believed the robbers had inside information and access tags that enabled them to make their way to the cash centre with ease. However, all investigations concerning the alleged mole drew blanks.