Foreign affairs minister Carmelo Abela has released email correspondence to prove he did not interfere in a police investigation.
Former detective and financial intelligence gatherer Jonathan Ferris felt the e-mails amounted to ministerial interference in a police investigation into a fraud case he was conducting.
The exchange, which took place in May 2016 when Abela was home affairs minister, has prompted the Opposition to demand Abela’s resignation. However, Abela has insisted he was just seeking a progress update on a fraud case on behalf of a citizen whose requests for information about his case to the police had fallen on deaf ears.
Abela told Lovin Malta he was alerted to the case in question in May during a phone-in on One Radio. In the phone-in, which Lovin Malta has listened to, the angry man complained to Abela that the police were refusing to give him information about how his case was progressing.
“He doesn’t deserve to be a policeman, let alone an inspector,” the man could be heard saying, ostensibly a reference to Jonathan Ferris, who was in charge of the case.
Abela responded on air that his powers were limited to asking the police how the case was progressing and that he could not demand information about the investigation itself.
On 25th May 2016, Abela’s secretary Kevin Mifsud emailed Ferris to say: “I would like you to give me an update about the case of Mr X* who was defrauded. Seeing as the case was mentioned in the media, I would like to pass on this information to the minister.”
Ferris got back to him the next day, saying: “Case is still being investigated. It is a complex case and not just as Mr X is stating. Will update you in due course.”
Around half an hour later, Abela’s head of customer care Raymond Grech sent Ferris an email – with the minister and Mifsud cc’ed – saying: “We know that this case is still being investigated. All we’re asking is a brief summary of what has been done so far regards this case. Whilst thanking you in anticipation, I’m looking forward to hear from you.”
However, Ferris refused to give the minister any information.
“All I can tell you is that the case is still being investigated,” Ferris said. “Should the complainant request updates re. progress on his case, he is more than welcome to make an appointment and attend my office to discuss his queries.”
A few minutes later, Grech responded: “The minister has requested information about this case and not Mr X.”
Unlike what Ferris had told Lovin Malta, the email in question was not written in capital letters. Abela said the correspondence between his office and Ferris ended there, as far as he is aware.
The minister said he never met or spoke to the citizen in question, other than to answer his question on air. He also said the citizen is not one of his constituents.
Ferris has said this email exchange amounted to interference. He also said this is what prompted him to ask police commissioner Laurence Cutajar to be transferred – to the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) in the role of manager of the analysis section.
Abela told Lovin Malta he believes Ferris only left the police force because he wanted to get into the FIAU.
Ferris’ tenure at the FIAU turned out to be short-lived, and he was let go in June of this year at the end of his probationary period. Ferris said he was let go because the FIAU didn’t want him digging into allegations the Prime Minister’s wife owned an offshore Panama company, but the FIAU said in a statement today the real reason was because he wasn’t competent enough for the job.
Contacted by Lovin Malta, Ferris said the FIAU was “playing a game of chess”.
“They published that statement today claiming I was incompetent because they know I cannot respond because that would constitute a breach of FIAU secrecy laws,” he said.
He said Abela’s information proves his version of events – namely that the minister tried to interfere in an investigation he was conducting and that he refused to comply.
“These sort of things shouldn’t take place and Carmelo Abela should be ashamed of himself,” he said, while adding he has other cards up his sleeve, which include correspondence with Ian Abdilla, the assistant police commissioner in charge of the Economic Crimes Unit.
“If Abela thinks that’s it, then let him be but all I can say is he’ll be quite surprised later on. My mind is at rest.”
* Abela didn’t reveal the name of the complainant so as to protect his identity.