It’s downright impossible to speak to anyone in Malta right now without the conversation making some sort of detour to 27-year-old police officer Francesca Zahra and her now-infamous TikTok dance. But if there’s one topic that should be indundated with other points right now, it’s the matter of police investigations.
Not nearly enough has been said of the multiple other ongoing cases that merit a deeper and tougher look by our nation’s police force. From shocking public acts to mindblogging scandals, here are seven other issues Malta’s police should be filing disciplinary procedures over.
As that wise Italian saying goes, c’è solo l’imbarazzo della scelta.
1. Whatever happened to Malta’s traffic police racket?
Over three months ago, even before we were all talking about COVID-19, the nation’s eyes had turned to Malta’s traffic police, with half the force being arrested over an alleged racket involving everything from misreporting of overtime hours to forgiving traffic fines in exchange for sexual favours.
Now, a quarter of a year down the line and still bruised and battered from the humilitating assault launched upon them, not one single police officer has been charged with any crime.
The 34 officers were suspended and remain suspended to this day, some with half pay, some with no pay. Some were even asked to resign.
But in between the suspicious framing of their charges (which are now solidly placed within the realms of money laundering) and the even more suspicious timing of it all (right after Malta failed a test by the Council of Europe’s money laundering monitoring body Moneyval) some police officers have serious suspicions that this was all a ploy to deviate attention from the Economic Crimes Unit’s failures.
There’s also the issue that the officers were arrested in February… when a whistleblower had reportedly informed the police about the alleged racket all the way back in October 2019.
At the end of the day, tired, embarrassed and just looking for closure, some police officers are now calling for investigators to charge them – if they even have anything to charge them with.
If there really is any meat to this story, now would be the perfect time to actually charge someone with something. Or, you know, a couple of months ago.
2. What about those high-ranking police officers allegedly skiving work for years to study law at your expense?
Still hurting from the racket that seems to have fizzled into nothing, some of Malta’s traffic police officers had divulged details on deeper, darker scandals that are allegedly still afoot within the corps.
“Several police officers have enrolled at the University of Malta for a full-time law course and attend lectures during work hours,” an anonymous traffic officer still stuck in limbo had told Lovin Malta. “Many of them are escorted to university in a police car and their driver has to wait outside for hours at a stretch until they finish their lectures.”
“They even study and do their assignments during work hours, in full view of other officers,” the officer continued. “We’re talking about assistant commissioners, inspectors, superintendents and others, including some who have applied to become police commissioner. I can name some of them, but it isn’t exactly difficult to find out who they are.”
“They’re investigating us for potentially over-declaring hours worked at extra duties when they themselves are skiving from work to attend a law course in full view of everyone. Who will investigate these police officers?”
3. Why has one of Malta’s MPs rejected calls to return home during a global pandemic to just chill in London instead?
Malta got its first case of COVID-19 back on 7th March, what feels like a decade ago. Some days later, events started being cancelled, shops started closing and people started retreating to their homes. Meanwhile, former minister and MP Konrad Mizzi went AWOL.
Living in the UK since January and away from Malta since 13th March, Mizzi didn’t come back to the island when the government issued a notice to Maltese nationals and residents to return home by 12th April in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. He reportedly justified his absence from parliament by presenting a medical ceritifcate from a UK doctor which certified him as “unfit to fly”. That was two and a half months ago.
Caught up in a couple of scandals and named in connection with one of Malta’s most controversial deals in recent years, the former Health, then Energy, then Tourism Minister was even absent for a parliamentary debate and vote on whether the hospital deal he himself had spearheaded should be revoked.
Earlier this month, Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said in another parliamentary debate that Mizzi is only still abroad because he’s “running away from justice”.
From Vitals and Montenegro to Panama Papers and 17 Black, many people believe Mizzi has a whole lot to answer to… and deciding to stay in a pandemic hotspot and not safely return home along with everyone else sure isn’t helping his case.
So maybe, just maybe, there should be a proper investigation looking into this?
4. Keith Schembri.
From murder to obstruction of justice, there are very few allegations that haven’t been lodged at the former Prime Minister’s former Chief of Staff over the last months. And what’s worse, there are even fewer – if at all – that have to this day been fully disproven.
From allegedly lying under oath about coordinating the FBI’s involvment into the murder investigation of Daphne Caruana Galizia to his uncomfortably friendly relationship with alleged murder mastermind Yorgen Fenech, Schembri has been accused of a number of things.
Suspected middleman Melvin Theuma told the Court that Schembri “certainly” knew in 2018 of Yorgen Fenech’s involvement in the murder. Meanwhile, Fenech testified that Schembri had kept him constantly informed about progress in the investigation, even informing him that his phone was being tapped and giving him all the details about the pardon that was eventually granted to Theuma.
The list goes on and on. The number of ongoing disciplinary procedures that are actually going somewhere, meanwhile, aren’t.
5. What are we doing with all those cases of hate speech?
Nearly two years ago to the day, three youths were denied bail and kept in jail for 11 days after comments they made on Facebook after a hit-and-run incident which saw police officer Simon Schembri lose an arm.
Sending the three youths to be locked up, Magistrate Joe Mifsud had said he wanted to send a clear signal to society that the Maltese police force should have as much protection as possible, and no-one has the right to mock the police.
Since then, a slew of racially or politically motivated hate speech has reigned supreme on Facebook, with victims this time being minorities, activists or even random citizens. Meanwhile, however, enforcement on these cases has left much to be desired.
“Despite innumerable instances of criminal hate speech on our streets and our screens, no or sparing action has been taken by any competent authorities (including the domestic Hate Crime and Speech Unit) to prosecute any such offensive and criminal behaviour,” SOS Malta had said last December, following comments lodged at activists telling them “they’re next” after Daphne Caruana Galizia, or even worse, people telling the murdered journalist’s son they’d be sending him “a jigsaw puzzle called DCG for Christmas”.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Robert Abela vowed to take on Malta’s hate speech issues… but much still needs to be done within political parties including the Labour Party itself, which has been plagued by hate speech issues, with ministerial employees even launching fake news campaigns, and social media groups leading coordinated attacks against critics that have in the past even been endorsed by MPs.
Of course, the scars run deep and aren’t just political. Just this month, an MCAST student who is a refugee from Morocco fleeing persecution for his sexual and religious beliefs was “shocked and sickened” by some Maltese students’ ignorance. From Holocaust denial comments to edgy Jew and Nazi comedy, the student unveiled a toxic thread of comments made in front of an entire class by his peers… in the presence a lecturer.
And that’s not even mentioning the myriad of other groups who have faced abuse and hate speech at the hands of organised trolls targeting everyone from foreign workers to pro-choice activists.
If there’s one place Malta should really step up when it comes to actual disciplinary procedures, it should definitely be this problematic new wave.
6. Actually, whatever happened to the police sergeant who celebrated a murder on Facebook?
Mere hours after investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bomb just outside her home in October 2017, police sergeant Ramon Mifsud had taken to Facebook to celebrate.
“What goes around comes around, cow dung!” Mifsud had written. “Feeling happy.”
Suspended the next day on half-pay, Mifsud was to be instantly investigated by the Public Service Commission. The Justice Shadow Minister, the Malta Police Association and the Police Officers’ Union were all very quick to condem his comments.
Eight months down the line, Mifsud was still a police officer, with Lovin Malta having been informed that he had been deemed “not mentally fit to testify”. To add salt to the wounds, this was all happening at around the exact same time those three kids were instantly denied bail for 11 days for posting derogatory Facebook comments against the police force.
Months down the line and a full year after the status in question, disciplinary action against Mifsud was still pending, with his fate being put on hold for “medical reasons”.
Now, another year and a half later, and with the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia steadily approaching its three-year anniversary, the just end to this saga is still nowhere in sight.
Somehow, this feels a bit more flagrant than a jovial 15-second TikTok video.
7. Corruption… where to begin?
Beyond the beautiful sandy beaches and the stupendously sunny weather, there’s one darker thing Malta’s slowly starting to be known for worldwide. And no, that can’t be completely down to some Illuminati-style influence a failing party has over the entire globe.
“Malta’s corruption is not just in the heart of government, it’s the entire body,” The Guardian writer Alexander Clapp had said of the issue back in December 2019, when daily protests were still dotting the streets of Valletta. “Only now is it becoming clear just how rotten the state really is.”
Since then, Malta has slowly but steadily declined in annual Corruption Perception Indexes like the one published by Transparency International, where the country has dropped six points in the last five years. Add to that The Economist Index’s recent rating of Malta as a “flawed democracy”, and you’re hearing it from everyone else but us.
Be it the collapse of Pilatus Bank, the Panama Papers exposé, or the country’s controversial cash-for-passports scheme, Malta’s had a rough time when it comes to corruption. What’s even tougher is that we don’t seem anywhere nearer to closing most of the cases… which is surely what we should be aiming to do sometime this decade.
BONUS: The other half of that TikTok meme – Floriana FC supporters who broke the social distancing regulation currently enacted in practically every country on the planet
Francesca Zahra’s TikTok video might have had nothing to do with Floriana FC’s league celebrations earlier this week, but it’s at that moment – and that meme – that all hell really broke loose.
What people seem to be forgetting, though, is that at a time where you and I will be fined if we hang out with five more people in public, hundreds of people were allowed to essentially plan a street party a couple of hundred metres down the road from the Police HQ to celebrate a decision the entire nation was anticipating. And days later, the closest the police force – which was visibly present throughout the whole thing that fateful Monday evening – has done is “analyse the footage to determine who should be fined retroactively”.
While people are being encouraged to constantly practice social distancing and wear face masks because even one sneeze or a couple of milliseconds of contact can make a difference in spreading the worst virus this side of the century, hundreds of people have been allowed to return home and continue to roam freely among the entire community for the rest of the week.
If that’s not worse than a police officer flailing her hands around to a song for a couple of seconds on a completely separate day, then I don’t know what is.