The authorities were awaiting verification of information from Dubai, one of the world’s most secretive financial jurisdictions, before taking any action against former chief of staff Keith Schembri and former minister Konrad Mizzi as it emerged in court that requests from police were returned unopened.
Police superintendent Antonovich Muscat from the Economic Crimes Unit told the Board of inquiry on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination that the police began investigations into 17 Black, the Dubai based company owned by murder suspect Yorgen Fenech, in 2018, under the project name ‘Operation Green Power’. However, they hit a blank wall when attempting to obtain verification from Dubai.
He said Dubai was critical to the investigation, yet cooperation was lacking. Muscat said the police sent a letter of request to Dubai twice, but it was returned to the police without even being opened.
“We tried to connect with them through Europol but they did not cooperate with the EU at all,” Muscat said. “In these places without regulation, you are at their mercy, unfortunately,” Muscat said while replying to questions by lawyer Jason Azzopardi who is representing the Caruana Galizia family.
Muscat said he believed that they would manage to obtain information from Dubai, eventually.
Elaborating on the 17 Black investigation, Muscat said that it seemed there were no transactions, but there was correspondence that they were looking into.
Earlier in his testimony, Muscat said that the lack of evidence was the reason why Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Schembri were not taken to court over the €100,000 transferred into Tonna’s bank account, which are allegedly kickbacks from passport sales and the subject of a magisterial inquiry that started more than two years ago.
Pressed by Azzopardi on whether any warning lights went off with regards to the circumstances of this situation, Muscat said: “Opinion and suspicion are not enough, we didn’t have proof.”
Asked whether Tonna and Schembri should have been called and questioned, Muscat said, “yes”. Yet, at no point where they called in. “No one told me to call for them.”
“This wasn’t a normal case from the beginning,” Muscat added, who recalled that it was unusual to be given a report without a police file.
Asked whether he was given instructions to investigate the Panama Papers, Muscat said he was never instructed to investigate them specifically.
Both Muscat, and Ray Aquilina from the anti-corruption squad, who testified prior to Muscat, spoke about three separate reports they had received from the FIAU.
Aquilina revealed how the police were handed a number of reports by the FIAU on Schembri, Mizzi, Tonna, Hillman and 17 Black. During the period, Michael Cassar and then Lawrence Cutajar were police commissioners.
Aquilina said the police were handed a report about passport kickbacks between Tonna and Schembri in 2016. In the same year, another report was given by the FIAU on Adrian Hillman and Schembri. Then superintendent Ian Abdilla had told Aquilina to read it, gather information and send back his findings to him.
Aquilina said that he had sent letters to local entities to gather information, and gave the information back to Abdilla along with the letters he had received. He created a file and sent it to Abdilla for further information, he added, but he has not seen the file since.
The third report by the FIAU was a more general one, including the investigations into 17 Black.
Aquilina also said the FIAU had drawn up an analytical report in March 2018 which was initiated from a story written by Caruana Galizia, which alleged that Opposition Leader Adrian Delia made money from a prostitution racket in the UK, using a British bank. He said that Economy Minister Chris Cardona was not being investigated in this regard.
Speaking about the lack of resources in the anti-money laundering unit, Aquilina said they had no accountant and that two financial analysts only began working in 2018 after Moneyval’s report. He said that while resources improved slightly, they remain poor.