Sunday, 15 November 2020, 09:00
Last update: about 12 hours ago
The head of the Financial Crimes Investigations Department, Assistant Commissioner Alexandra Mamo, has told The Malta Independent on Sunday that nobody has tried to approach or put pressure on her not to investigate any politician.
She was asked during an interview whether she or anyone in her department has ever been pressured not to investigate such persons.
The Assistant Commissioner said that, when she was first appointed to the post, she told those working in her department that they must be loyal to their oaths. “Since I have been here, I can say, hand on heart, with responsibility and honesty, that nobody has ever put pressure on me, or called, approached or messaged me not to investigate any person.”
She also said that the Police Commissioner has never called her to ask about any person. She did add, however, that she does keep Commissioner Angelo Gafa informed, especially on highly complex investigations, “as I believe that he has a right to know what stage investigations have reached. But he never put pressure on or interfered in investigations. He leaves them in my hands.”
The interview was conducted last Monday, and the actions of her department just a day later backed up her statement, as former Minister Konrad Mizzi and former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri were both taken in for questioning by her department.
Over the past years, the police were heavily criticised over their apparent lack of action when it came to politicians and high profile scandals.
The Assistant Police Commissioner was asked by this newsroom about Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama companies, Electrogas and others such issues. She said, however, that she is unable to answer such questions and was not even able to confirm if investigations were taking place into specific situations, saying that she is prohibited from doing so by the Police Act and also due to ongoing magisterial inquiries in certain instances.
She did say that there are investigations ongoing on diverse matters but would not specify on what.
Asked about criticism regarding lack of action against politically exposed persons by the police up until recently, Mamo said: “I will not say that the police did not take action on cases involving PEPs or persons of interest.”
“It would be presumptuous of me to speak about what happened before I took up my position, and also I do not think it would be right nor ethical to speak about those who were there before me.”
She said that the people who were there before she took over are no longer there, and that includes the Superintendents who used to lead both squads. “It is a relatively new and young squad.”
“All the investigations that had been launched where there were PEPs or persons of interest involved are actively ongoing, being handled by the teams I have under my responsibility. Every team is focused on their investigations and every Sunday they must provide me with feedback on every investigation I had assigned to them.”
She said that these are highly complex investigations, that require time for all the intelligence gathered to be translated into raw evidence. “This takes time, investigations take time.”
Assistant Commissioner Mamo was asked whether anyone is looking into what happened before she took over her department, in terms of the perceived lack of action over such cases. She said she is not able to answer the question.
Mamo did say, however, that when she was first appointed to the post, she asked for an update on all the investigations that were pending and that the task forces were set up and handle these investigations. She reiterated that she receives updates from her teams on their investigations.
‘I am committed to my oath and to the force’
Mamo took over the department on 1 July 2020. She was asked about her new role.
Mamo said that, prior to her current post, she was leading the 6th and 6A police Districts (Sliema and St Julian’s).
She said that, when she accepted to head the Financial Crimes Investigation Department, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa told her that he has faith in her. “I am committed to my oath and to the force. My main aim is the interests of Malta and of the Police Force.”
Mamo explained that the Financial Crimes Investigation Department is divided in two and consists of two squads – the anti-money laundering squad and the economic crimes squad.
“Every squad is under the supervision of a superintendent. The anti-money laundering squad is led by Superintendent Frank Tabone, and the economic crimes squad is led by Superintendent James Grech. Both were appointed on 1 October.”
The economic crimes squad has eight inspectors, she said, “which means there are eight teams also with one sergeant and two officers in each. The anti-money laundering squad has 12 investigating officers with their teams each comprised of a sergeant and two officers. We also set up the tax compliance unit which has one inspector and we plan for his team to also include a sergeant and two officers.”
She said that there is also the blockchain department comprised of two people and that they also have the financial crimes analysis unit, which currently has one analyst. “We plan on increasing the number of analysts and a call for applications has been issued. We also plan to have forensic accountants and also a lawyer.”
Her first three months in the role were not easy, Mamo said. “From July until October I was leading on my own. They were not easy days as there was a mountain before me, but I was and remain determined to work. We are on a ship in the middle of a tsunami. We can see land in the distance, so let’s row to reach it. I want to steer this ship into port. We are moving in that direction, but it is not easy. Nothing is easy.”
Photo: The Finacial Crime police unit premises in Hamrun
The typology of financial crime has changed
Mamo’s career began as an inspector and superintendent in the anti-fraud section, but later she made the move to work in the districts, which is where she said the epicentre of her career was.
She said that the typology of financial crime has changed a lot since she last worked in this sector. In her time dealing with such crime 14 years ago, she said, they used to mainly deal with bounced cheques, misappropriation, Intellectual Property Rights crimes, fraud, contraband and she had also dealt with the first case of money laundering.
“But as I took up my new position now, there are tens of cases relating to corruption, trading in influence, money laundering, in addition to the kind of cases we dealt with in the past.”
“Today we open parallel financial investigations where, if other departments find a cache of drugs for example, we would work with other police sections. Where there is a major investigation, I order a parallel financial investigation to be launched and we work together.”
In order for the squad to focus on major crimes, she said, there was a streamlining of the Financial Crimes Investigations Department (FCID) competencies last May. So the FCID investigates major complex cases where the amount would be higher than €50,000.
She was asked whether she now has a grasp of everything in her new position, given that she was assigned to the 6th District until recently having spent years away from such financial crimes, and how she has managed to learn about the newer forms of financial crime. She said that she was determined and committed. “It is not easy to switch to completely different work. In the district you need to take care of the community and here it is different, you deal with financial crimes. I was determined to take on the new challenge.” She said that she read the various financial crime laws and when taking up her new role, held a meeting with her team.
“I met with the inspectors and told them what I want us to achieve. I stressed the importance of working as a team… I also reminded them of their oath and told them that if they have any conflict of interest to speak up, or if they fear investigating I will be there for them. I told them they would not be alone, but if they still felt that way, they should approach me and I would speak to the Commissioner about their wish to move elsewhere. Not a single one did so. I always stress the importance of loyalty to their oath and the importance of integrity.”
Asked whether the police have enough resources to combat financial crime, she said that “there will never be enough resources, as there is always financial crime. Over the past few months we conducted an internal audit on the investigations that began. I began examining every document in detail… I created a number of task forces and gave each one a number of investigations to handle. Each task force has a number of inspectors who will be working on their assigned cases. I, together with the Superintendents, hold regular meetings with them, where they provide me with feedback in terms of where they are at in their investigations.” She said that before any operation, “we will discuss, see what they will need and communicate with other entities (like the AG) if it is required.”
Mamo added that her department also has a good healthy working relationship with the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.
She was asked about Moneyval and whether she believes the Police Force will get a better grade due to the changes made.
“Moneyval requires a lot of work. There are a lot of statistics and you need to be hands on all the time in every investigation. Every case open, every case that is closed, it all reflects on the Moneyval evaluation. I have one inspector who, aside from carrying out his investigations, is together with me and the Superintendent of the anti-money laundering squad, focused on Moneyval.”
She said that the number of court cases on money laundering offences has increased. Over the past four months, 15 people and one legal entity were taken to court on money laundering offences, in a total of eight cases she said.
The Assistant Commissioner explained that money laundering cases take time as documents need to be examined in detail, and that there are procedures when requesting information from institutions abroad, such as through Letters Rogatory, which need to be followed.