Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli was held for questioning by the police for several hours last week over alleged connections to former police superintendent Raymond Aquilina, The Shift can reveal.
Police sources told The Shift that Portelli, currently also the president of Malta’s football league winners Hamrun Spartans, was interrogated under caution by the financial crimes department over his possible connections with Aquilina, who for many years was the key police officer responsible for money laundering investigations at the Economic Crimes Unit.
Though details of the ongoing investigation are still unclear, The Shift understands that the police are looking into property deals involving both Portelli and Aquilina.
The deals under scrutiny involve the transfer of property to Aquilina’s relatives that later ended up in the hands of the former police superintendent. The Shift understands the police are basing their investigation on documentary evidence.
Reports that Aquilina was arrested appeared last week, with speculation that the former police officer is suspected of leaking information on police investigations into journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination.
Yet The Shift is informed that while Aquilina is also a person of interest in the assassinated journalist’s probe, the police are also looking into his possible involvement in financial crimes including money laundering and fraud.
The sources said the possible links to Joseph Portelli might be separate to any other links to the Caruana Galizia case.
Who is the Raymond Aquilina?
Described as a very reserved person with very few close friends, Aquilina joined the police force in 2004 and always worked as an inspector in the Fraud and Economic Crimes Department, mostly under the guidance of Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla.
Abdilla is still in the force despite several reports of his close links with the former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and his failure to investigate money laundering crimes.
Aquilina was responsible for money laundering investigations and intelligence on people, mostly businessmen and professionals, suspected of being involved in money laundering activities.
It is not yet known whether the police have acquired evidence that Aquilina was also passing on information to Portelli, among others.
Following the change in government in 2013, Aquilina was promoted to the rank of superintendent but remained responsible for money laundering.
He retired from the police force shortly after the arraignment of businessman Yorgen Fenech, accused of commissioning the assassination of Caruana Galizia.
Soon after his retirement, qualifying him for a police pension, Aquilina was recruited by State entity Enemalta to look after its fraud section. He did not last long on the job as he left as soon as his name started doing the rounds during the ongoing compilation of evidence against Fenech.
During several court hearings, Aquilina’s name came up during conversations secretly recorded by State witness Melvin Theuma.
Aquilina and former deputy police commissioner Silvio Valletta were the police officials most frequently mentioned in alleged leaks to those suspected of being involved in the crime.
The rapid rise of Joseph Portelli’s empire
Born in Canada, Portelli, from Nadur, got involved in the property market as soon as he arrived in Malta, making connections with big businessmen and politicians from both sides of the political divide.
His rapid rise to controlling a multi-million euro real estate business, through his company J Portelli Projects, occurred in the past decade with projects all over the islands, mostly demolishing old structures and turning them into large blocks of apartments.
His flagship project, Mercury Towers in St Julian’s, is currently under construction and will include the tallest building ever to be built in Malta.
His name is associated with controversy, particularly due to various ‘dubious’ development permits issued by the Planning Authority in the past years, particularly in Gozo.
Portelli is also one of the owners of an illegal concrete batching plant in Gozo, which is supplying concrete to various ongoing government projects including a new public sports centre and various road works, a number of which were given through direct orders.