Prime Minister Robert Abela claimed that he had passed on information about the then candidated for the PN leadership race Bernard Grech. Corners on Monday evening after several doorstepping attempts by journalists all day, Abela said that he had initiated a conversation with Gaerty but not to elicit information, only to impart it. Abela had been dodging questions on this communication since it was revealed this weekend where The Sunday Times claimed that Abela had communicated with Gaerty regarding the issue Dr Bernard Grech had with tax payments.
Abela said that he told the Commissioner that he had information that Grech had a long-standing issue with tax, and that this information had come to him from a source within the Nationalist Party.
In his reaction, Grech insisted that Abela’s meddling was a clear abuse of power. He stated that if the Prime Minister is unruffled about snooping around in his financials, he should have no problem in publishing his own returns, together with the VAT he declares.
Monday morning Timesofmalta.com confirmed to Newsbook.com.mt that Prime Minister Robert Abela had not answered questions sent to him on Saturday asking if he had ever asked the Commissioner for Revenue Martin Gaerty for information about the tax returns of Bernard Grech, leader of the PN.
Newsbook.com.mt was following on the exclusive story published by The Sunday Times of Malta which reported, among other things, the paper’s questions to the Prime Minister. The paper reported that although the police had the mobile and laptop of tax commissioner Martin Gaerty, they could not access them as Gaerty said that he could not give them the password unless authorised by the Prime Minister.
“Always respected the law” – Gaerty
Gaerty when contacted by Newsbook.com.mt on Monday did not comment about whether the Prime Minister had asked him to give information about the tax returns of Grech.
Gaerty told Newsbook.com.mt that during his very long career in the public service he always behaved ethically and legally.
“I always served all taxpayers within the parameters of the law. I never accepted to do anything which was against internal regulations or the law”, insisted Gaerty.
The tax returns of Bernard Grech were the subject of controversy during the PN leadership contest. Information had been leaked to the Sunday Times of Malta and Malta Today who then reported that over the years Grech had some problems with the tax authorities. These problems were resolved before the election for leader.
Prime Minister in a quandary
Legal sources that spoke to Newsbook.com.mt said that it is very clearly in the interest of good governance and of the Prime Minister not to leave the matter hanging. They said that if the Prime Minister had indeed asked for information from Gaerty, he would have acted illegally and could be criminally accountable. Such a matter would lead to the resignation of the PM in any democratic country, said our sources.
Following his questioning on December 22, Gaerty was asked by the police to give them the password to have access to his mobile and office laptop. Gaerty said that he was legally obliged not to do so unless authorised by the Prime Minister.
Our sources confirmed that Gaerty’s position is legally correct. The Sunday Times of Malta reported that sources close to the Prime Minister, meanwhile, confirmed that Abela is still weighing his options over whether he would allow the police to access Gaerty’s device.
Our sources said that the police do not need the authorisation of the Prime Minister, but they have the duty to ask the inquiring magistrate to authorise them to access the devices whether there is the permission or not. The magistrate can also release one from the obligation of professional secrecy.
Our sources said that the police do not need the authorisation of the PM but they have the duty to ask the inquiring magistrate to authorise them to access the devices whether there is the permission or not. The magistrate can also release one from the obligation of professional secrecy.
In a statement Monday afternoon the police said that they do not need the authorisation of the Prime Minister to access and analyse such devices. They added that the “investigations of the police have been proceeding unhindered, even with the involement of an inquiring magistrate.”
The Prime Minister in a quandary, our legal sources said. If he refuses permission, he will be perceived to be hiding information and accused that he is doing so cover his back had he asked Gearty for information that he was legally bound not to ask for. The Prime Minister can only clear this doubt if he gives the police permission to access the devices.
On the other hand, if he gives permission, he would be giving the police access to thousands of messages and emails with hundreds of people in the business community, politics, and from all walks of life. Even if not illegal such information can be embarrassing to many people. Our sources said that Abela could not consider giving partial access, in the sense that the police would be permitted to investigate messages between Fenech and Gaerty, the subject of Gaerty’s interrogation by the police.
Institutions not working – Grech
According to media reports of Robert Abela’s speech on Sunday he did not refer to the story in The Sunday Times of Malta. On the other hand, Bernard Grech did comment on the story.
In his comments on Net FM, Grech said that politician’s job is to legislate and not to control investigations. He also urged the police to do their work. The PN leader said that the report in The Sunday Times of Malta showed that the institutions are not working correctly, as police should not have to wait for the approval of the Prime Minister for them to do their work.
In a post on Facebook Grech said that “It is clear that the Prime Minister is not comfortable with releasing more information. Although he is comfortable speaking about my taxes, he is not comfortable with the publication of more information.”