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Police Feared They Would Be Sued If They Seized Nexia BT Servers, Former Economic Crimes Unit Head Says

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Investigators feared that they could face legal action if they seized Nexia BT’s servers over their involvement in the Panama Papers with no evidence of wrongdoing, former Economic Crimes Unit Ian Abdilla said.

According to a Malta Today report on the public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, Abdilla also backed his decision to not call in disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi and the former Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff Keith Schembri for their role in the Panama Papers scandal.

An FIAU report which indicated criminal action was handed over to Abdilla, but he told the inquiry that it’s difficult to pursue a case based on an FIAU report.

“You are analysing the decision with hindsight. It is easy to say that now when we know everything… Maybe I would have taken a different decision, but it is easy to say that now when we know everything.”

He also added that owning Panamanian companies is not necessarily illegal and that the police were investigating money laundering issues. However, Lawyer Jason Azzopardi made it clear that the intention to launder money is a criminal offence in Malta.

Meanwhile, the inquiry board itself seemed to suggest that Abdilla, who eventually seized the servers a year later as part of the Egrant inquiry, was imply buying time for Nexia BT to delete any files.

“My conclusion is that you knew full-well the evidence would be compromised, and you still waited a year,” Judge Mallia said.

Quoting two sources, the Times of Malta has reported that Attorney General Peter Grech was the one to send a note to police warning that following up on the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit’s advice to conduct a seizure of Nexia BT data would be “highly intrusive” and “counterproductive”.

He said that police should demand a “high level of reasonable suspicion” before such a measure would be justified.

Nexia BT is the accountancy firm that set up the offshore Panamanian accounts of former Minister Konrad Mizzi and former Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.

Caruana Galizia was the journalist to first reveal the existence of the secret companies.

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