Right before the pandemic hit, Malta was in the midst of an embarrassing international scandal.
Over half of the traffic police force was involved in fraudulent schemes, the New York Times had reported. Rumours of sexual favours in exchange for the forgiving of fines abounded; overtime excess was on everyone’s lips.
All of a sudden, Malta’s traffic corps seemed to be made up of scam artists and fraudsters. Malta was shaken.
However, three months on, and the officers arrested that day have been left wondering why such a massive story was made about them… only for them to then remain uncharged with any crimes for over three months.
Speaking to Lovin Malta on the condition of anonymity, three traffic officers are now calling for investigators to charge them – if they even have anything to charge them with.
They want a fair chance to speak their side in court – more than anything though, they want to show the true extent of abuse in the upper echelons of the Maltese police force as they are thrown under the bus.
“You’ve opened investigations into claims of fraud in the force? Brilliant – that’s what we should be doing as officers. However, if you are investigating a dinner, and all I had was a piece of toast, I’ll pay for the toast – but don’t try to make me pay for a three-course meal,” Marvin* told Lovin Malta.
The officers feel betrayed in light of the extensive allegations against them. Most of the officers have spent years in the corps, seeing everything that goes on among their higher-ups.
They still can’t get over how they were treated the day they were all arrested, especially by some in authority who they knew had asked others to do some very questionable things before.
The 34 officers in question were arrested while on duty and in uniform on the 11th of February.
Daniel* vividly remembers the moment he got the call to come into the Floriana depot.
After his colleagues began getting similar calls, he knew something was up. He went home quickly to change out of his uniform. However, he found himself being escorted to his home by two of his colleagues.
“When we approached my house, I begged the policewoman not to come with me to the door – seeing me walking up my stairs with two officers would have scared my family,” he said.
He made it home, got changed and readied himself for whatever was coming at the Floriana depot.
But he wasn’t even close to ready when he was taken downstairs and found every cell filled with a Maltese officer in full uniform.
Many were shouting between them, the blue of the uniform shining from behind the bars. The cries of the arrested officers filled the hallway.
“Allaħares they arrested a criminal that day because there wouldn’t have been any space left for them,” Daniel told Lovin Malta.
All the officers that were hauled in that day remain suspended, some with half pay, some with no pay. A few of them were even asked to resign.
Now, they are asking for charges to be brought against them and for their lives to be able to continue, instead of living under a dark cloud, not knowing what could happen to them – or whether they even did anything wrong.
Bastjan* spoke about allegations that officers were skiving from work, or abusing from overtime, allegations he said were grossly exaggerated.
“Someone wants to do a 45-minute event. They call the station to order a couple of officers that they need to pay for – they are told to book them for two hours. After 45 minutes, the event ends and everyone leaves. The police leave as well. Is that skiving?” Bastjan asks.
He goes on to talk about the damage these allegations have done to his faith in Malta’s judicial systems, as well as his personal life.
“After that story came out of the sexual favours, I went home and found my wife looking at me strangely… we haven’t been alright since then, who knows what she thinks I’ve been doing,” Bastjan says forlornly.
“When they hauled us in, they told us they knew all about the fraudulent ‘scheme’ we were all apparently involved in,” Bastjan said. “I couldn’t believe it when they said scheme like it was all some big plan.”
“They told us they’ve known since last October,” he continues. “But if they knew we were skiving from October, why did they never ever send someone to my house to check? Why didn’t they put a data tracking machine on my motorcycle? It would have been so easy to catch me red-handed – call me when you know I’m home, ask me where I am, and when I lie, knock on my door and that’s it…”
The traffic officers have some major suspicions about the entire investigation and the very specific timing of it.
And the officers say that a series of blunders in their questioning, as well as certain specifically-timed actions, have left them sceptical of the claims.
For example, the officers were granted police bail for three months – fresh evidence would be needed to extend it beyond three months. On the last day of the third month of their bail, the officers went to see if they would finally be charged, or have their cases dropped… only to be told that some fresh evidence was just obtained just in time.
“I’ve always been loyal to the corps – and this is how we are treated?” asks Marvin, shaking his head, wondering if the reason they’ve been left in limbo is because they’ll blow the lid on much more serious rackets.
Divisions are worsening in the traffic corps as little to no movement is made insofar as charges are concerned. Some officers are reportedly having suicidal thoughts. Through all this, officers haven’t been given any updates except that ‘investigations are continuing’.
Detailed records of officers movements throughout 2019 are being created via localisation of their coordinates, and officers are being brought in for questioning, oftentimes presented with some new data in an attempt to catch them out.
However, even knowing what they know, the officers are just wondering when the hammer will fall on them.
“You know the best part?” Daniel asks wryly. “They had all this money to do all these localisations and this massive investigation – but they never had money to buy officers a second uniform or a toilet to piss in.”
Names have been changed*