Union official among two police officers suspended over extra duties probe involving Monte di Pietà

There is an ongoing police investigation into the findings of an internal government audit requested in 2020 of how the police’s extra duties process was managed

The police is investigating the findings of an internal audit into how extra duties were assigned and paid for. Two officers have been suspended so far.
The police is investigating the findings of an internal audit into how extra duties were assigned and paid for. Two officers have been suspended so far.

Updated at 11:41am with Malta Police Union statement

An ongoing investigation into extra duties assigned to officers at the Valletta police station has led to the “precautionary suspension” of two officers, MaltaToday can reveal.

The investigation concerns extra duties with the Monte di Pietà, a pawn service in Valletta. 

MaltaToday has confirmed that one of the suspended officers is Alexander Schembri, the president of the Malta Police Union. He has denied any wrongdoing when contacted.

This newspaper understands that the investigation concerns the assignment of additional extra duties to officers, while they were supposed to be working as cash escorts with the Monte di Pietà, situated in Merchant Street.

Sources within the police force said that as much as 50 police officers have been questioned over the extra duties they performed with the Monte di Pietà. The alleged fraud could run into thousands of euros.

While not confirming the particular investigation involving the Monte di Pietà, the police have confirmed that there is an ongoing investigation into the findings of an internal government audit of the extra duty process within the police force.

The police said that in February 2020, through the Home Affairs Ministry, the police force requested the Internal Audit and Investigations Directorate (IAID), a government entity, to carry out an audit into the “administration and management of the extra-duty process within the Malta Police Force”.

The findings of the IAID investigation are not public but concern the manner in which extra duties were assigned prior to changes in the system enacted after 2020.

In response to questions on the allegations related to the Monte di Pietà, a police spokesperson replied: “Following the receipt of the IAID’s report, the police launched an investigation into its findings and whilst investigations are still ongoing, it can be confirmed that two police officers have been precautionary suspended.”

Schembri denies wrongdoing

However, when contacted, one of the suspended officers, Alexander Schembri, insisted that he did nothing illegal and had also obtained permission of then police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar in the manner by which extra duties with the Monte di Pietà were assigned.

Schembri had been the detailing officer at the Valletta police station. He explained that extra duties with the Monte di Pietà concerned a 15-minute job by which the police officer acted as a cash escort between the Merchant Street office and the Central Bank, situated further up in Castille Square.

“Officers performing extra duties at the time were paid for a minimum of two hours by the third party – these have today increased to a minimum of three hours and in some instances five hours – and given the short time required at the Monte di Pietà I had obtained permission at the time to assign other extra duties to those officers for the remaining part of the two-hour slot,” Schembri said.

“They are judging the assignment of extra duties in 2019 with today’s standard operating procedures but I did nothing criminal,” he insisted. “I have been suspended but have not been notified of any criminal charges yet.”

Detailing system centralised in 2020

The police spokesperson said that in 2020, the Malta Police embarked on a reform process which included, amongst others, the centralising of the detailing system and the establishment of an Internal Audit Unit.

This reform captured the attention of the Auditor General who in his Annual Audit Report of public accounts in 2020, noted the creation of a centralised system to detail officers and the launch of an anti-corruption policy and anonymous reporting system, immediate payment to officers for extra duty, the set-up of an internal audit unit, as well as capping of voluntary supplementary duties.

The National Audit Office remarked that in July 2020, a unit was set up to handle staffing and major events that enabled the centralised detailing of officers through an online spreadsheet that made it simpler to transfer the information to the salaries office.

The change formed part of the Malta Police Transformation Strategy launched in 2020, which was put forward by Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà when he was still CEO of the force.

Questions as to how many officers have been questioned in relation to the Monte di Pietà case and whether criminal charges will be filed against any of them remained unanswered.

In June and July 2020, almost 40 officers within the police traffic branch were charged with crimes that included skiving from extra duties, being paid for extra duties performed during their regular working hours and theft of fuel. The widespread abuse had been flagged months prior by a whistle blower. The cases are ongoing.

READ ALSO: Seven more police officers charged with fraud at traffic section

MPU refutes Schembri's resignation

The Malta Police Union said that the executive committee has not accepted Schembri's resignation from president but he has been suspended from his union duties.

In a statement released after MaltaToday's report went online, the MPU said that the union's executive committee received Schembri's resignation letter, however this has "not been accepted at this time".

"Mr Alexander Schembri has been suspended from all his functions and will not represent the union until further notice," the MPU added, without making reference to the ongoing police probe involving Schembri.

The union said Marlon Hili has been designated as Acting President.