Alexandra Mamo surely has one of the most difficult jobs in the nation. From hunting down dangerous criminals to unravelling complex money laundering webs involving high-profile politicians, all while dealing with a restless public and the omnipresent pressure of an upcoming Moneyval review, life is no walk in the park for the new head of the Financial Crime Investigations Department.
“It’s an uphill struggle,” Assistant Commissioner Mamo told Lovin Malta. “It feels as though I’m steering a ship through a tsunami. I can see the land ahead, and I want us to get there.”
Mamo was appointed to her new job last June, in what was the first major decision taken by police commissioner Angelo Gafa, a person she enjoys a brotherly relationship with.
“I was shocked when the police commissioner informed me of his intention,” she recounted.
Although Mamo started off her police career investigating fraud, she left 14 years ago to oversee the Sliema-St Julian’s district and her studies had since branched out into human rights.
“It never crossed my mind that I’d be specialising in financial crime. However, I took note of the interests of the police force, the public interest, and the oath I had sworn, and accepted this role.”
“It’s been far from an easy ride. I was all by myself for the first three months and it felt like there was a mountain looming over me. I’m a people’s person and I used to help victims of crime, but now I’m locked inside an office dealing with several documents and papers. You get direct indescribable satisfaction as a district officer, but there’s indirect satisfaction here too because it concerns the economy.”
Mamo succeeded Ian Abdilla, who has been widely criticised for taking a weak stance in high-profile corruption cases and who has since admitted that he could have handled the Panama Papers scandal better.
The new Financial Crime Investigations Department head said that while it’s human nature to show reluctance in going after powerful people, the police must overcome these tendencies.
“You must be firm, you cannot adopt an approach of two weights, two measures depending on who people are and what level of society they form part of. If person A is a politician, person B is a PEP and person C is a regular person, we must treat them all the same, and if we have reasonable suspicion to arrest any of them, we must do so without fear or sadness.”
“That’s why I’m here, I’m paid by taxpayers money at the end of the day.”
Mamo made it clear in her first meeting with her team that she will not tolerate anyone closing a blind eye to crimes committed by the powerful.
“I told them that we’ll manage to dock this ship and disembark but we must be united, trust each other, and work hand in hand for the best interest of the police force and Malta. I told them that if they were scared or uncomfortable investigating certain people or if they had a conflict of interest doing so, then now was the time to speak out so it could be addressed with the police commissioner.”
“I could see the relief in their expressions.”
Although no one actually stood up to voice their concerns, Mamo said she noticed these problems in a particular officer, brought it up with the police commissioner and ensured this person was moved out of her Department.
“When you notice the smallest suspicion, you must address it straight away or it could get out of hand. If you address the problem and the person remains the same, it means his place isn’t in the squad.”
Since Mamo took charge, the Financial Crimes Investigation Department has moved to a new office block in Santa Venera and increased its human resources threefold to 95 people, a problem her predecessor had flagged as a reason for not investigating the Panama Papers.
Her department is divided into two squads, one led by Superintendent Frank Tabone to focus on money laundering and terrorism financing and the second led by Superintendent James Grech to focus on economic crimes.
The money laundering squad has twelve inspectors and the economic crimes has eight, each specialised in a particular field (eg. corruption, intellectual property rights and asset recovery) and each leading a team consisting of a sergeant and two inspectors.
They also employ a financial crimes analyst and cryptocurrency crime analysts and are currently searching for more civilian analysts and forensic accountants.
In the past four months, Mamo’s department has brought eight cases before the court, including a hairdresser and a butcher couple, but this has been met with accusations that they’re acting strong with the weak but weak with the strong.
Yet Mamo insists this isn’t the case and that it’s perfectly normal for complex money laundering investigations to take years.
“Money laundering investigations start when someone files a report, when we receive confidential information or see a media report, or as parallel financial investigations to major crimes.”
“We must analyse and evaluate all the information, convert intel into raw evidence and build on it. We must file European Investigation Orders if we require information from an EU country, or letters rogatory if we require information from a non-European country.”
“We must see whether to ask the courts to issue an attachment order to freeze someone’s assets for six months, then analyse and evaluate the replies to these requests so we can keep building our case.”
“We must analyse every document and every piece of information to find a predicate offence or a link that leads to a predicate offence. We’re not dragging our feet as some people think, but it’s a process that requires time.”
Things seem to be moving faster than they were, evidenced by the recent arrests of former minister Konrad Mizzi and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, scenes that would have been unbelievable not too long ago.
Without commenting on individual cases, Mamo said she is confident her team will achieve closure on its cases in due course.
On a personal level, Mamo is something of a beacon for gender equality, making history as Malta’s first female superintendent and first female superintendent and attempting to become its first female police commissioner, ultimately finishing second behind Gafa.
“I got to where I am today through determination and sacrifice; all careers will stall without sacrifice,” she said of her successes so far. “You must always do your research, keep yourself updated, maintain a sense of ownership and commitment, and not only care about your paycheque.”
“Obviously you can’t always give 100%, but you must give 90-95% because this is a mission, we’re helping society and that’s hugely satisfactory.”
“I have a hard job but it’s useless crying or scratching your head about it; you must sit down, think, focus and maintain a sense of determination to reach your destination.”
“Right now we’re in the middle of a storm but I’ll bring it to port and ensure we all disembark but it takes time and sacrifice.”
What do you make of the new head of the Financial Crimes Investigations Department?