Update: The day after this article was published, the government nominated Angelo Gafa for Police Commissioner on 8 June.
As the finish line in the race for the police commissioner post looms closer, amid public outcry over the inclusion of a disgraced assistant commissioner with domestic violence claims, high ranking police sources tell The Shift that the firm favourite is Malta Police Force CEO Angelo Gafa.
Senior police sources told The Shift that among the candidates who have put their names forward for the role of police commissioner, there is, and there’s always been, one man for the role – Gafa.
“It is an open secret that the present CEO, Gafa, is the preferred choice for the sake of ‘continuity’. Three years ago, the role of CEO was created for him, although it was opposed by his mentor, then Commissioner Michael Cassar,” a number of police officers told The Shift.
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela still went ahead and appointed Gafa to the post, which was described as an administrative role that would allow then police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar to focus more on investigations (the irony is noted).
“As CEO, he delivered next to nothing – apart from the quasi-annual show off of new police vehicles. If Gafa was the CEO of any ordinary company he would have been fired unceremoniously by the Board of Directors or in this case by the Home Affairs Ministry,” the police sources said.
Instead, his contract, which was never published, was renewed earlier this year.
Gafa was touted as the favourite of former police commissioner Michael Cassar and, in fact, followed him to Security Services in 2013 and was later appointed as its assistant leader. In 2016, he was appointed CEO of the force.
As a police inspector in the Economic Crimes Unit, Gafa was the lead prosecutor in high profile cases such as the Enemalta oil scandal, disgraced former European Commissioner John Dalli, and in the alleged bribery claims against former Sliema deputy mayor Silvio Zammit. He also led the interrogation of former Sliema mayor Nikki Dimech in relation to bribery charges. Some of his top cases ended in an acquittal.
“For example, the Court of Appeal presided by Madame Justice Scerri Herrera acquitted Dimech of all charges and interestingly enough chose not to dig into the serious allegations levelled by Dimech’s defence team towards Gafa when the suspect was arrested and was being interrogated by the top investigator.”
“And we all know how the John Dalli and oil scandal cases are evolving,” a former senior police officer said.
Gafa was the right-hand man of Commissioner Cutajar for a number of years. Cutajar stepped down in January, days after Prime Minister Robert Abela took office. This move was welcomed and described by many as “long overdue” as Cutajar had been accused of failing to take action and investigate top government officials following the Panama Papers revelations and on reports from the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit. He was given a consultancy job with the government on the same day.
Abela announced Cutajar’s resignation in a press conference and said Cabinet would be discussing a proposal for a new mechanism to select the new police commissioner. This process would lead to greater scrutiny in the selection of this important position in the Police Force, he said
But as the details of the new proposal emerged, it was met with criticism that nothing much had changed as, the final say, would still be the Prime Minister’s. Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt had urged the Maltese authorities to leave the choice up to Parliament, while the Opposition disagreed with the new proposals, arguing that nothing had changed and that it was a method based on corruption.
In fact, senior police officials pointed out that the recent amendments to the Police Act, through which a call for applications for the top post is issued, was a “half-baked measure”.
“The call, in itself, is a positive step in the right direction but does it attract the best available resources on the market for such a delicate post?” they said.
Five men and two women are among those who applied for the role. These include former assistant commissioner Mario Tonna, who resigned in 2018 following a report of domestic abuse filed by his partner, and Herman Mula, who left the police force and graduated as a lawyer.
Sources pointed out that Mula had the right qualities for the role but “his likes and shares of the site ‘Laburisti Pozittivi’ unfortunately make him unsuitable for the post” since he would not be seen as impartial especially when the “most important police investigations revolve around politically exposed persons at the heart of the Labour Party”.
Mula, in fact, joined his brother Labour Safi Mayor Johan Mula in Abela’s electoral campaign when he left the force, they pointed out.
Johan Mula was the Hal Safi Labour club president who refused to go the police when he found people cutting up a “blokka bajda” (cocaine) in the club kitchen, and instead made them dispose of the evidence. His brother, now seeking to be police chief, was a police inspector at the time.
They are the sons of retired police inspector Bartholomeo Mula, who was involved in the police frame-up of Pietru Pawl Busuttil in 1986.
Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo, a newly warranted lawyer, was described as a hard-working officer with the right experience and background, although her ability to handle pressure was questioned.
There is also former senior inspector Mary Muscat, probably the public’s favourite candidate. She is a lecturer at the University of Malta and at the Academy of Disciplined Forces. She also practices law.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, she is super qualified for the job from an academic perspective, even though she seems to be lacking experience at a grass root level,” according to a former high ranking police officer. However, Muscat did work at district level.
Meanwhile, police inspectors Frankie Sammut, Robert Vella, Sandro Camilleri and Jonathan Ransley are considered to be outsiders in the race. Police sources said it was possible that these were approached to put their name in the race to show there was competition for the role.
“They do not have enough exposure at senior management level to lead the force in 2020 and beyond. It takes more than good intentions to transform a sinking ship.”
One possible option was for the authorities to go back to the drawing board and prepare a more detailed call for applications – with a decent financial package – that would attract the required talent within and outside the police force.
“We need a police commissioner who can rebuild a force raped by the Muscat administration with the help of Cutajar and the deputy and assistant commissioners and the CEO who stayed there listening and witnessing the massacre without moving a finger in order to accommodate their personal agenda.”
These were all collectively responsible, if not individually liable, police sources agreed. “As things stand, it seems that for one reason or another, Malta will still lack a solid and reliable police force for years to come and it will come at a huge cost to all”.