Where is disgraced former police chief Lawrence Cutajar? This is a man who, as police chief no less, was allegedly involved in helping murderers evade justice, taking bribes, allowing money launderers to operate with total impunity and blocking and delaying investigations into serious crimes. So, where is he? Has he been arrested? Will he be charged?
Despite being under formal, magistrate-ordered, investigation since June last year, Cutajar seems to have become as invisible and as slippery as he was during his time as police chief. And yet, as citizens of a country whose international reputation has been shredded by the misdeeds of the current government, and the inaction of those charged with the nation’s law enforcement, we deserve to know what is being done about him.
Dereliction of duty, perversion of the course of justice, aiding and abetting criminals charged with murder, money laundering, corruption and fraud; these are all hideously serious crimes, crimes Cutajar, as a policeman and as police commissioner, was duty-bound to prevent.
Instead, his name continues to come up in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder case with sickening regularity, cited time and again by self-confessed assassination middleman Melvin Theuma, whose testimony led to the arrest of accused murderer Yorgen Fenech.
Theuma has consistently claimed that Cutajar, who resigned as police commissioner in January last year, passed on details about planned police raids in connection with the assassination via close confidantes of both Cutajar and Theuma. The witness alleged that his pardon was negotiated with Cutajar, to whom he claims he paid €15,000, delivered through yet another go-between. Theuma then said it was all “a bluff”.
Theuma’s testimony, coming out over the past year and a half, followed two years of what looked like shameful inertia on the part of the police, led by a chief who then appeared to be a brain-dead, bungling stooge, but has now been accused of being something far more disturbing, far more sinister.
Cutajar’s record as police chief is hideously embarrassing. For him, and for those who appointed him, of course, but also for the entire country. How could Malta have tolerated such obvious, blatant and brazen incompetence, and for so long? Court evidence and media investigations have revealed a level of ineptitude and potential corruption that takes one’s breath away.
The list of Cutajar’s failures is enormous: failure to investigate the Panama Papers revelations, failure to act on money laundering cases reported by the FIAU and the failure to move swiftly to secure potential evidence at firms associated with the crimes, such as Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank, as well as the most damning of all, failure to properly conduct the investigation into Caruana Galizia’s murder or to safeguard her inalienable right to justice.
For a while, Cutajar’s reputation as a prize dunce, a clown to mock and mimic, created something of a buffer zone between him and the more ominous suspicions that were circling. But now only the most abject apologists and accomplices could possibly deny that the former police chief has a monstrous amount to answer for.
Police corruption isn’t a new thing, of course. The BBC documentary, ‘Bent Coppers: Crossing the Line of Duty’ paints the 1960s London Metropolitan police force as awash with corrupt officers. Policemen who took bribes to let villains off the hook. Others who operated a mafia-style protection racket, demanding regular payments from known crooks in return for turning a blind eye to their crimes, or even, in some cases, planting evidence and arresting innocents for crimes they knew they hadn’t committed.
The BBC series ‘Line of Duty’ is based upon the Met unit that was set up after The Times, in 1969, tipped off by a crook tired of being squeezed dry by certain police officers, wrote a shocking expose of this secret network of corrupt officers.
Malta’s police force has a unit that is nominally supposed to carry out a similar role, the Professional Standards Unit. The website describes its mission as being to safeguard the integrity of the police force and to investigate corruption and the violation of the Force’s code of ethics. But bar the blurb on the website, the unit rarely gets mentioned anywhere.
Was the division involved in the arrest of more than half Malta’s traffic police, alleged to have been running a corruption scam that included cheating on extra duties allowances, fuel misappropriation and the collection of protection money, for example?
Shocking as that story was, we comforted ourselves, at least they’d been caught, at least they’d been stopped. However, even that ‘triumph’ may have been tainted. The Malta Independent reported in February last year that officers investigating the claims of a whistleblower in October 2019 – when Cutajar was still police commissioner – were told by senior officers to “sit on the file” for two months before action was finally taken in December of that year.
Cutajar was derided by many as being nothing more than disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s tool, his puppet, who’d only act when Muscat pulled his strings, no matter how serious the crimes he was faced with. It’s worth considering how many of the myriad crimes that Cutajar was charged with preventing and solving – of corruption, money laundering, fraud, forgery, and, of course, the most heinous murder in Malta’s history – could even have occurred without Muscat’s ‘useful idiot’ running the police force.
Indeed, as more of the truth around these and other crimes dribbles out, Cutajar’s buffoon’s mask is sliding right off. Underneath it is the face of a conman, the face of a police commissioner who abandoned the people he was duty-bound to protect, whose name is falling off the lips of hardened criminals and serial killers.
Underneath the mask is the face of a man who should be facing justice side by side with those he enabled, protected and coddled. Dereliction of duty is the least of his crimes.