'Panama' questions put Cassar on defensive

Michael Cassar had to undergo medical supervision when he suffered from severe chest pains after returning from a holiday with his wife in Rome.

Police Commissioner Michael Cassar
Police Commissioner Michael Cassar

Commissioner of Police Michael Cassar will be calling it a day after being advised by doctors that the pressure of work was taking a heavy toll.

Work stress and his general health have led him to take a decision to give up his job, leaving the government with the unprecedented scenario of having to find the fourth police commissioner in three years.  The police chief formerly headed the Security Service.

Cassar had to undergo medical supervision when he suffered from severe chest pains after returning from a holiday with his wife in Rome.

But close aides have told MaltaToday that the straw that broke the camel’s back was a request for comment from sections of the media asking him whether he is the beneficial owner of an offshore Panama company.

“He was shocked to have been asked the question,” a source said, referring to questions from the Malta Independent.

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela has not received any official resignation notice from the Commissioner, who has already been two weeks on sick leave.

Cassar was once again in the eye of the storm after public calls from Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to investigate privatisation contracts that took place under the aegis of energy and health minister Konrad Mizzi, because of the minister’s offshore company he had opened in Panama.

As a police officer, Cassar, who lives in Zabbar, made a name for himself with a tough stand against drug barons and trafficking. In 1994 his home was extensively damaged by a bomb placed by Emmanuel Camilleri (Leli l-Bully) a convicted drug trafficker.

“Michael Cassar was on holiday with his family when he returned to Malta and was admitted to hospital. He spent two days at the hospital and he is recovering at home now. We are waiting for further test results,” Carmelo Abela said yesterday.

“There is no letter of resignation as yet and I don’t know what’s going to happen. [Cassar] is a person first and foremost and it’s important that he follow medical advice. The decision is entirely up to him,” the minister said, dismissing claims that Cassar’s departure would have resulted from disagreements at work.

Abela denied that Cassar wanted to step down because of “political pressure” not to investigate the Panama scandal.

“Politicians do not interfere in the works of the police force. It is up to the police to decide what to investigate,” the minister said. He went on to warn against “any speculations”.

The Malta Independent claimed that the Police Commissioner was unhappy with the government’s planned decision to introduce a CEO – an allegation immediately shot down by the minister who pointed out that such plans had been announced well before Cassar became chief of police.

Both Cassar and Abela were appointed to their present role following the shooting incident that involved the driver of Abela’s predecessor. An electoral pledge of the Labour Party is that the government wants to “modernise” the police force which would include a CEO. The CEO would report directly to the police commissioner.