Did Malta's Police Chief Let Slip That Konrad Mizzi And Keith Schembri Are Under Police Investigation?
Cryptic answers force police to issue a clarification
There's a new twist in the never-ending tale about Panama Papers. After weeks of silence, the Police Commissioner yesterday let slip that Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister's Chief Of Staff Keith Schembri may be under police investigation after all, only to take it back again in a strange clarification earlier this morning.
Mizzi and Schembri, who have kept their positions in government, were named in the Panama Papers leak last year, and came under intense scrutiny last month when members of the Pana Committee said their offshore company structures were a "textbook case of money laundering".
Police Commissioner Laurence Cutajar was yesterday surprised with a phone interview by TV presenter Frank Psaila on the Nationalist Party's TV station Net. He was asked to explain why the police did not seem to have followed up a report into the Panama scandal by Malta's Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.
Cutajar said he could not comment about this case, but emphasised very clearly a section of the law that specifically excluded him from commenting. Without defining the law in question he simply repeatedly referred to Article 112 in chapter 164 of the Police Act.
It turns out that this chapter of the law is pretty specific about referring only to people under police investigation. This is what the law actually says:
"No police officer shall give any details to the press or the broadcasting media regarding the identity of any person arrested on a reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence. The Police shall not issue to the press, either directly or indirectly, any information about the identity of the person who is about to be charged before the courts or of any investigation concerning any suspect."
It's no surprise then that the Nationalist Party's newspaper Nazzjon this morning carried a big front page story entitled: Confirmation That They're Suspects And Under Investigation (Jikkonferma li suspettati u investigati).
The front page story was this morning immediately dismissed by government official Glenn Bedingfield on his blog, where he titled the newspaper's story as "fake news". Bedingfield said the story was a lie "fatter than MPs Toni Bezzina and George Pullicino together".
"Even if you add me to the mix, it remains the fattest lie," Bedingfield added.
The police released a statement some hours later clarifying the comment, saying the "spirit" of the law in question was intended for specific cases not to be discussed in the media.
"Today's report by in-Nazzjon is just an incorrect interpretation of the way the Police Commissioner responded. As was already said on March 24th 2016, there is no reasonable suspicion of any criminal actions that could lead to an investigation."
"The police should be left to do its work with serenity and no added pressure," the statement concluded.
Lovin Malta has sent a follow-up question to the police, asking whether any information that emerged since March 24th 2016, including the FIAU report, have changed the situation whereby there is no reasonable suspicion of criminal actions.
The Police Commissioner has recently come under strong fire by the Opposition leader Simon Busuttil who has vowed to remove him from his position if the Nationalist Party were to be re-elected next year.
Meanwhile, Keith Schembri has reacted on Facebook, accusing Busuttil of attacking him because of a lack of ideas on how to tackle the country's problems.
In a reaction, the Office of the Prime Minister told Lovin Malta that the Opposition was exerting tremendous pressure on the police force in a way that was unprecedented and dangerous.
"It is unprecedented that the Opposition leader says he would sack the Police Commissioner or anyone who does not comply to his political demands. This is tantamount to blackmail on all independent and investigative bodies. His divisive politics and arrogance simply shows he did not learn past lessons from the last PN administration."