Valletta had told Abdilla not to meet Yorgen Fenech because he was ‘unwell’

Ian Abdilla outside depot

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla told the Board of Inquiry that when the police were on their way to speak to Yorgen Fenech who at the time was a person of interest, he had received a call from Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta in which he was informed that the meeting with Fenech was off since ‘he was unwell’.

Abdilla confirmed this information in open court, after Dr Jason Azzopardi asked him who did he got the call from when he was on his way to meet Fenech at his Portomaso office. This happened around the same week that the Reuters and Times of Malta revealed the story that 17 Black was owned by Fenech.

In his reply to Azzopardi, Abdilla says he did not know how Valletta knew about Fenech being unwell.

During Friday’s morning sitting it also emerged, that disgraced OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri had sent for Abdilla twice to ask him about the investigation. This information emerged following a question by Dr Azzopardi. Two meetings had happened after “those reports” were leaked. Abdilla told the Board that he had told Schembri to seek legal advice.

Highlights from Friday’s sitting:

  • Valletta had told Abdilla to meet Yorgen Fenech at his office rather than calling him for questioning at the Police Headquarters after it was revealed that he owns 17 Black
  • The meeting was cancelled after Valletta called Abdilla as he was making his way there and told him that Fenech was sick
  • Following leaked reports, disgraced OPM Chief of Staff had sent for Abdilla twice
  • Abdilla had told Schembri to seek legal advice after Schembri had called him after reports about him [Schembri] were leaked
  • Abdilla was liaison officer to the FIAU when Valletta who was his superior sat on the FIAU board
  • There are no sittings next week due to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus

The Board of Inquiry is composed Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, who is chairing the inquiry board, and two other board members, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia, Andrew Borg Cardona and Peter Caruana Galizia are assisting the family of journalist Caruana Galizia.

11:13 Thank you for following this live blog.
Monique Agius
11:12 The sitting is suspended for a short break. However, after the break the witness will continue testifying behind closed doors.

There will be no sittings held next week due to the current situation with the coronavirus.
Monique Agius
11:07 The Board points out that Chris Cardona, Keith Schembri, the judges had come to the Police Headquarters.

When did this happen, Dr Azzopardi asked referring to the car incident.

'During the week, the Times of Malta published the story,' Abdilla replies.

Dr Azzopardi asks whether he had asked Valletta how did he know that Fenech was unwell.

Abdilla replies no.
Monique Agius
11:02 Dr Azzopardi asks about a specific time when Abdilla as ECU was on his way to meet Yorgen Fenech at Portomaso when he received a phone call from Silvio Valletta who was Deputy Police Commissioner at the time, this was before November 2018.

Abdilla confirms the phone call and says that Valletta told him that Fenech was unwell.

Madam Justice Lofaro asks the witness, 'so the judges were hauled to the police headquarters, and with Fenech you go to him? What did you discuss? Coffee and biscuits?'

'La legge e ugale per tutti. You should have asked him to come to the Police Headquarters,' Lofaro says.

'If am not mistaken, it was Valletta who had suggested this,' Abdilla replies.
Monique Agius
10:57 'What about 17 Black?' Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino.

'I'd like to testify behind closed doors,' Abdilla replies.

'Did you send for those involved?' the Board asks.

'No,' Abdilla replies. Adding that he would like to testify behind closed doors on 17 Black. Abdilla was involved as an investigator in this.
Monique Agius
10:56 'Don't you agree that when you were heading the unit from 2015 onward, the numbers were abysmal?' Dr Azzopardi asks.

'I don't issue those orders. The Investigating Officers would issue such orders,' he replies.

'But aren't you their superior?' Madam Justice Lofaro asks.

'I don't interfere with the Police Inspector's work,' Abdilla replies.
Monique Agius
10:54 Abdilla is asked to explain the numbers which seem 'so low'.

Abdilla says that he agrees with Dr Azzopardi's observation that it was low. He says that if one had to look at the new statistics, the previous ones are "dwarfed".
Monique Agius
10:52 Azzopardi refers to a Parliamentary Question by Karol Aquilina for a statistics on the number of orders of investigation.

The law allows for an order investigation, an investigation and an attachment, and monitoring.

Dr Azzopardi reads out the statistics from the PQ. In 2017, only 1 order was issued.
Monique Agius
10:52 Dr Azzopardi asks the witness whether Schembri communicated with him recently via WhatsApp.

'I don't think so,' Abdilla replies.
Monique Agius
10:50 Dr Azzopardi: Was it just of the two of you at these two meetings?

Abdilla: It should have been May or June. Not sure if it was before or after the election.

Dr Azzopardi: How much time had passed during the two meetings?

Abdilla: After the documents were leaked, maybe it was during a period of fourteen days.

Dr Azzopardi: Was he speaking to you in his name or on behalf of third parties?

Abdilla: in his name.
Monique Agius
10:46 Dr Azzopardi questions the witness.

Dr Azzopardi: After 2015, were you ever in communication with Keith Schembri, including using WhatsApp?

Abdilla: I met him twice. After Egrant. After the two reports were leaked. He had sent for me when I was Assistant Commissioner.

Dr Azzopardi: So Schembri sent for you, offered you a coffee, and what did he ask you?

Abdilla: He asked me what I thought about it. It was a ten-minute meeting. I had told him seek legal advice.
Monique Agius
10:44 Replying to a question by Dr Comodini Cachia, Abdilla says that probably he was the most qualified in the sector.
Monique Agius
10:41 The witness asks to testify behind closed doors.
Monique Agius
10:37 Chief Justice Said Pullicino asks about Pilatus Bank when Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was caught leaving the bank. Abdilla says that he was happy that he was being asked this question. He says that they had CCTV footage from when Ali Sadr landed until he was at the bank. He says that from CCTV footage inside the bank, Sadr was seen taking out a phone charger and a notepad.

Sadr went home with the suitcase, he says. "We searched the suitcase", he expains.
"That same night?", Madam Justice Lofaro asks.

"The day after", Abdilla replies. He states that there were no legal grounds at the time to arrest Ali Sadr.

'What was the legal basis to do a search?' Abdilla asks likening it to if a police man had to stop a magistrate or a judge taking the acts of a case home to draw up a judgement.

'I wouldn't have any problem showing the police what I have,' Madam Justice Lofaro replies.
Monique Agius
10:35 Dr Comodini Cachia asks the witness whether the ECU participated in Europol's joint investigations on these reports which are in the public domain, and how many such investigations did they participate in.

Abdilla says that he can't testify on this in open court.
Monique Agius
10:34 'I'd like to understand if he wants to testify behind closed doors about what is in the public domain,' Dr Comodini Cachia says.
Monique Agius
10:32 'I don't want to be difficult. According to the money laundering act, I can't reveal anything. Only the director can exempt me,' Abdilla replies.

The Board says that Farrugia has already been exempted.
Monique Agius
10:30 Comodini Cachia: Did you receive any reports on Keith Schembri? We got them from the media.

Abdilla: I don't know what you got from the media. But am bound by professional secrecy. I want to testify behind close doors.

The Board of Inquiry exempts the witness from professional secrecy.
Monique Agius
10:27 'Has there been any reports by the FIAU on public administration?' Chief Justice Said Pullicino says.

'Yes there were. But am bound by secrecy,' Abdilla says.

'We will exempt you from that,' the Board says.
Monique Agius
10:24 Abdilla speaks in general and refers to some reports about the work.

Madam Justice Lofaro tells the witness to be concise and not to waste time.

'I was the police's liaison officer to the FIAU,' Abdilla says.

'Valletta was my direct superior and he was on the board. What was discussed at board level was not discussed with me. Unless he needed some advice,' Abdilla replies.

Dr Comodini Cachia: when you were liaison officer to the FIAU and Valletta was your direct superior, if you opened a file, he would be aware, right?

Abdilla: technically yes.
Monique Agius
10:20 Chief Justice Said Pullicino asks how many suspicious transaction reports did the ECU receive from FIAU and what action was taken.

Profs. Refalo intervenes that such information would prejudice any pending investigations.

"Let's make this clear, the Board is empowered to ask for information and obtain it. Professional secrecy exists for lawyers and for a priest who listens to confession. Otherwise it does not exist here. If anything he will testify behind closed doors,' Judge Mallia replies.
Monique Agius
10:19 The Assistant Commissioner says that he was a Liaison Officer with the FIAU.

Abdilla is asked whether when Silvio Valletta was his direct superior officer, Valletta was also a member of the FIAU board.

'I think so, yes,' he says.
Monique Agius
10:15 Abdilla explains the chain of command, there are various investigative branches within the Police Force.

Dr Comodini Cachia asks Abdilla to clarify the chain of command.
Monique Agius
10:13 Abdilla explains that the Unit works 'hand in hand' with Europol. He says that they are members of various Europol focal points which include counterfeit money, money laundering, etc.
Monique Agius
10:10 The ECU saw an increase in human resources when Cassar [Police Commissioner] was in charge.

Abdilla explains that Cassar increased the complement.

He adds that Magri understood it better and has increased the human resources at the ECU.
Monique Agius
10:10 Abdilla tells the court: 'when you ask me how many people are employed with ECU, I'd reply which dates are you referring to?'
Monique Agius
10:07 'I was the superintendent in charge. I would take care of day-to-day affairs,' Abdilla says.

'Was the unit functioning in 2013-2016 with the people employed,' Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino asks.

'We've always suffered due to lack of staff. We used to have these political tinted cases. We were under a lot of pressure,' Abdilla tells the court.

Abdilla says “it was once this trouble [inkwiet] started”.

Asked to specify what trouble he is referring to, Abilla says “the Panama Papers and so on”.
Monique Agius
10:05 Abdilla started as police superintendent in 2015.

Dr Comodini Cachia keeps asking the witness on how many police inspectors he was in charge of in 2015.

Abdilla says 'I was roughly in charge of nine or ten police inspectors'.
Monique Agius
10:01 'In 2013, before the change of government, Michael Cassar was in charge before moving to the Malta Secret Service. Then it was Antoine Casha. Then for sometime there was Superintendent Paul Vassallo from whom I took over,' Abdilla explains.

'At one point, we fell under the responsibility of the Assistant Commissioner from the Homicide Squad,' Abdilla continues.

During this period, Abdilla was a police superintendent and would report to Silvio Valletta who was in charge of CID.
Monique Agius
10:01 AC Abdilla explains the way they go about appointing forensic experts.
Monique Agius
09:59 'While the crime rate is decreasing…' Abdilla says, 'increasing' Madam Justice Lofaro corrects him.
Monique Agius
09:57 'In 2013, there were six or seven police inspectors at Economic Crimes, and I think two at Money Laundering,' Abdilla says.

He says but this is not the full complement, 'may be we were 25 and 26, I don't know.'
Monique Agius
09:56 Judge Mallia asks about the complement in 2013 and 2016.

The witness is trying to remember how many police inspectors were stationed to economic crimes and money laundering. He says that in 2016 he was still a police inspector.

'In 2016, there were a lot of changes,' Abdilla replies.
Monique Agius
09:55 Madam Justice Lofaro observes that the ECU is better resourced than the homicide squad.
Monique Agius
09:52 Ian Abdilla speaks about spacial constraints and that in the coming months the unit will be moved to a new building which can accommodate up to 120 officers.
Monique Agius
09:51 Others are studying ACCA, some are lawyers and there are even officers with a Masters in Organised Criminality, Abdilla tells the board.
Monique Agius
09:50 Judge Mallia asks if the Superintendent and Police Inspectors have specialised training related to their job. Abdilla explains that the choice of staff always fell in the hands of the Police Commissioner 'whoever it was'.

'20 people received diploma training in AML/CFT last year,' Abdilla explains.
Monique Agius
09:48 There are around 60 police officers working within the Economic Crimes Unit. Seven police inspectors work on economic crimes while four work on money laundering. The Unit has changed its name Financial Crimes Unit which is composed of two squads.

Superintendent Ray Aquilina has recently finished his service.

Currently there are two civilians who do analysis. Later this year an analyst will be joining focusing on blockchain.
Monique Agius
09:47 'Around September 2015 I was promoted to Superintendent,' Abdilla replies to a question by Judge Emeritus Mallia.

He was promoted to assistant commissioner in 2018.
Monique Agius
09:46 AC Ian Abdilla is an accountant by profession. He joined the Police Force in 2001 as a Police Inspector and eventually moved up the scale. He has always been assigned to the Economic Crimes Unit.
Monique Agius
09:45 AC Abdilla takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
09:44 Ms Vella says that she included Caruana Galizia's work on Panama Papers, disgraced former EU Commissioner John Dalli's daughters, and an excerpt from the Moneyval report.
Monique Agius
09:44 AC Abdilla walks in. Dr Comodini Cachia says that Corinne Vella has prepared on a dossier.

Ms Vella takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
09:43 Lawyer Professor Ian Refalo says that he's tied with professional secrecy.

Lawyer Jason Azzopardi says that he can testify in open court about general information.
Monique Agius
09:42 Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia asks the lawyers if Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla has requested to testify behind closed doors.

Lawyer Therese Comodini Cachia says that they were not aware.
Monique Agius
09:41 The Board of Inquiry has entered the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:24 Welcome, is reporting live from Courtroom 20.
Monique Agius

Highlights from the previous court sitting:

  • DOI Director Paul Azzopardi says that PRs and Press Coverages are sent to all registered media houses
  • Azzopardi also said that PRs and the Press Coverages are also available online
  • “Under my watch, PRs are sent concurrently – by email and uploaded online,” said Paul Azzopardi.
  • The board of inquiry noticed that although the Police arrested 3 men there was no link between them and the assassinated journalist. Arnaud confirms.
  • Keith Arnaud confirms that the Police investigated the possibility that Daphne was assassinated due to her investigations on fuel smuggling
  • Arnaud was not comfortable answering questions related to the main possible suspects who could have ordered Daphne’s assassination.