Malta woke up to the news that a former top-ranking police officer in the Economic Crimes Unit had been arrested on suspicions of leaking sensitive information from the investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Raymond Aquilina, who retired from the force soon after Yorgen Fenech’s arrest and is on a state-funded pension, is the name on everyone’s lips, as questions continue to swirl over the extent of his involvement in the leaks.
However, his relationship to the case goes far back, having played an instrumental role in the police’s investigation (or lack thereof) into major financial crime and corruption allegations.
Here’s a look at the police officer currently spending time at the Financial Crimes Department awaiting potential charges:
The plot to get Aquilina to make Melvin Theuma’s case disappear
Aquilina had risen to notoriety after featuring in the testimony of middleman-turned-state-witness Melvin Theuma in the proceedings against Fenech, Alfred Degiorgio, George Degiorgio, and Vince Muscat over the murder of Caruana Galizia.
Theuma has revealed to the courts that both he and Fenech were well aware of the police’s plans to arrest Theuma and carry out raids at a number of properties.
Police have revealed that they were pursuing a money-laundering investigation into Theuma’s gambling and loan shark operations in order to pressure him to reveal his information to the murder, including a wealth of tapes implicating Fenech and others. Former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar has already admitted leaking information to Edgar Brincat, Theuma’s close confidante.
In Theuma’s recordings, Fenech, the main suspect in the case, tries to assure the nervy middleman that a certain ‘Ray’ would be carrying out the arrest
Meanwhile, Theuma has testified that confidante Johann Cremona, who is also a business partner of Fenech, said that Raymond Aquilina would be handling the arrest and ensure that police interrogation does not extend to beyond money-laundering allegations.
“Dak orrajt (‘he’s alright’),” Cremona allegedly told Theuma.
Recordings allegedly show that Theuma and Cremona were confident in the plot, hoping that Cutajar would also assist in diverting attention.
“When the file is ready they will instruct the Commissioner… he doesn’t know it yet… he’ll pass it on to Raymond,” Cremona allegedly says.
Theuma has told the courts that the arrival of a different officer was the driving force in him revealing all his information to Homicide Superintendent Keith Arnaud.
Should the Aquilina plot have succeeded, presumably, a grand conspiracy involving the top echelons on Malta’s police force would have worked – and Fenech and the rest of the men charged with murder remaining free.
Aquilina was granted a quiet retirement amid the chaos of the political crisis that erupted following Fenech and Theuma’s arrest.
He was among a host of top brass figures in the Economic Crimes Unit that were shifted out of the department, including Antonovich Muscat and Ian Abdilla, who still remains an Assistant Commissioner.
Soon after retiring and getting the police pension that comes with it, Aquilina was appointed as the manager of Enemalta’s internal audit and governance section.
However, he was quickly booted out once Enemalta was forced to open up an investigation into the company’s dodgy purchase of a Montenegro wind farm, which is also linked to Fenech and 17 Black.
He is now under arrest for leaking information on the case. However, we will need to wait till his appearance in court before finding out the nitty-gritty behind his involvement.
What is worrying is that Aquilina is not the only officer facing such damning allegations. A magisterial inquiry into police leaks in the case has already been opened. But, court sittings have already revealed the intimate links between then-Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta and then-Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and key players in the plot.
Valletta, who is the estranged husband of Education Minister Justyne Caruana, was named as the source of information on crucial details like Caruana Galizia’s whereabouts in the lead-up to her murder and the imminent arrests of the three hitmen.
It has also been revealed that Valletta had an intimate relationship with Fenech. He held dinners with Fenech and went abroad with him on at least two occasions. Meanwhile, there exists a video of Valletta “fooling around” in Fenech’s Rolls Royce.
According to Theuma and parts of the tapes, Valletta leaks details like the date of the arrests of the three men charged with carrying out the murder, Muscat’s potential pardon, information that Theuma’s and Yorgen Fenech’s phones were wiretapped, and that Cardona’s number was discovered on the phone of one of Daphne’s killers.
Valletta, who is referred to as “Valletta l-oħxon” in Theuma’s secret recordings of Fenech, was leading the case into the assassination until he was forcibly removed by court order.
He was also the one who set up unprecedented briefings with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Schembri on the case. The briefings started soon after the murder and continued up until a month before Theuma’s arrest.
Valletta has somehow escaped charge and interrogation so far, while Cutajar is under criminal investigation for leaking information to Brincat.
Whatever the case, it would appear that Aquilina’s arrest could be the start of a day of reckoning inside the old guard of Malta’s police force.
The Panama Papers link
Aquilina joined the police force in 2004, joining the Economic Crimes Unit, which was headed by Assitant Commissioner Ian Abdilla, in 2016.
He was one of the officers tasked with handling Operation Green, which is the name of the investigation into alleged money laundering and corruption following the reveal of the Panama Papers.
Aquilina told the public inquiry linked to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that the investigations were divided into three separate sections.
The first involved the Prime Minister’s then-chief of staff Keith Schembri, then-Minister Konrad Mizzi and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna – and their links to Willerby Trade. The second was based on a 2016 FIAU report concerning alleged money laundering between Schembri and former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman. And the third was a global report, which was a file on all the persons of interest that were linked to the case.
Aquilina insists that he had compiled several reports following the FIAU reports. However, none of them were acted upon.
“I gave it to Ian Abdilla and from that day I never saw the file again,” he said.
Aquilina, who insisted that there were four files full of information related to the case, said the police investigation stopped once a magisterial inquiry was opened into the affair. The inquiry, it should be noted, was opened following a request by then-PN leader Simon Busuttil in 2017, following months of inaction. It has resulted in the arrest and charge of 11 people, including Schembri and Tonna.
Aquilina has also confirmed that he played a role in the investigation into 17 Black, Yorgen Fenech’s Dubai-based company linked to the Panama Papers scandal and government corruption.
The files on each case were passed onto Abdilla. However, Aquilina revealed that he never asked whether his superiors would act upon the allegations.
What was clear from Aquilina’s testimony is that he wanted to shift blame onto police inaction on major financial crime to anyone but himself. He complained about poor resources and other issues. Still, he never fully explained why he did not pursue charges himself. At the time, he was yet to be named in the case.