Officers investigating claims of police corruption at the Police Traffic Branch, which was uncovered by a whistleblower, were told by senior officers to “sit on the file”, The Malta Independent has learnt.
While the first report was filed at the beginning of October, the investigation was only launched two months later, in December.
Former Police Minister Michael Farrugia yesterday confirmed that the investigation started “at the end of November, beginning of December.” Farrugia said that the probe was launched “as soon as the ministry was informed about the allegations.”
But The Malta Independent was told that the Home Affairs Ministry was informed about the case at the beginning of October and then Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar was personally informed about the case.
A file was opened, but it seems that no action was taken for a number of weeks. Officers involved in the investigation were later told that there were instructions from “up top” to “sit on the file.”
An investigation was finally launched at around the time when the whistleblower sent an email to then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, MP Simon Busuttil and the media. In that email, the whistleblower pointed out that a report had been filed “weeks ago” but nothing had been done about it.
In comments to The Malta Independent on Thursday, former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar said he had launched an investigation in November, after he received a letter from the whistleblower. This newsroom is informed, however, that there was no direct communication between Cutajar and the whistleblower. Cutajar did not specify the date on which the investigation was launched.
Sources also said that, in December, the whistleblower warned that Traffic Branch members were due to start collecting ‘protection money’ from a number of major construction firms and transport companies, but “nothing was done to stop this.”
Situation worsened after 2013
41 officers from the Traffic Branch have so far been arrested over a racket that saw most of the unit’s personnel involved in an extra duties allowance racket, as well as the misappropriation of police fuel and the collection of protection money.
Out of the 41, 25 officers have been suspended and 31 have been released on police bail but the corruption probe has now been widened to other police units.
The fuel misappropriation racket had been ongoing for decades, this newsroom was told, while the extra duty allowance abuse and the collection of protection money had been done for a number of years but intensified over the last five or six years.
Sources said the situation only got worse when a number of expolice officers were reinstated into the force after 2013.
At least seven members of the Traffic Branch have resigned, including an officer who was described to this newsroom as the “ringleader” behind the operation.
Internal Affairs Unit bombarded with emails
The police have encouraged anyone with information to come forward and have provided the public with the email address of the Internal Affairs Unit.
Sources said that, since then, the unit has been “bombarded” with emails claiming abuse and misconduct in other police sections.
These include claims of inaction and failure to take reports by District Police.
The unit is now passing these emails on to District Assistant Commissioners for action to be taken. Police Officers have also taken the opportunity to report illegal activities from their colleagues.
Members of the Traffic branch used to collect protection money from contractors and transport companies in return for turning a blind eye to traffic contraventions committed by people working for these same companies. The Internal Affairs Unit has been given details of how and where these payments were collected, and who these companies are.
Officers also stole fuel from their own service motorcycles. Sources explained that these officers would fill up 10 litres of fuel every day and siphon off half the amount, selling it or using in their private vehicles.
Officers also claimed extra duty payments when, in reality, they were staying at home. The branch had been contracted by Transport Malta to monitor traffic flows at the Marsa Junction but the duty was initially carried out by officers who were on regular duty (rather than those assigned to these special duties) and, later on, by no one at all.
Some officers claimed motorcycle-related allowances when they did not even have a motorcycle license.
Speaking to journalists yesterday, Michael Farrugia said police officers succeeded in “covering their tracks” in order to avoid their alleged overtime abuses being noticed in the Police Force’s annual overtime evaluation report.