Police identify more persons of interest through seizure of 17 Black documents

Ian Abdilla outside depot

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former Economic Crimes Unit Head, Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Abdilla, continued to testify in the public inquiry into the assassination of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, on Friday morning.

In brief:

  • Former ECU Head Ian Abdilla told the board that more persons of interest were identified after the raid carried out in connection to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech’s arrest
  • Then Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar had told then ECU Head Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla not to go to the Police Headquarters the night Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was caught on camera leaving Pilatus Bank
  • It was only after Prime Minister Joseph Muscat through his personal lawyer Dr Edward Gatt filed a criminal complaint that the police started investigating.
  • Abdilla told the court that he had sought advice from various magistrates on the situation
  • Abdilla testified that the Police found nothing suspicious that Nexia BT would give the name of the UBO of Egrant over Skype to the Panamanian company
  • While the Police often used the Running Commentary as an open source, none of the Police investigations were initiated

The public inquiry board is tasked to determine whether the state did all it could to prevent the murder.

The board of inquiry is chaired by Judge Emeritus Michael Mallia, and composed of board members Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Therese Comodini Cachia, and Peter Caruana Galizia appeared for the family.

11:09 The next sitting is on Wednesday at 9.30am when Evarist Bartolo will be summoned to testify.
Monique Agius
11:09 Abdilla steps off the stand.
Monique Agius
11:06 "Don't you find it strange that a private company who had office at the Ministry and which opened the secret Panamanian companies for Maltese PEPs was one and the same? This is why you had to seize the servers of Nexia BT." Dr Azzopardi continues.

Abdilla says that there are many places to go to search but did not specifically reply on the presence of Nexia BT at the Ministry and the lack of seizure of the server by the Police.
Monique Agius
11:03 "In the course of investigation, it had been established that Nexia BT, a private company, had a physical presence at a ministry. Do we agree that it was a Justice Ministry?" Dr Azzopardi asks.

"Yes… I thought you were going to mention OPM," Abdilla chuckled nervously.

"They used to say OPM, but it was the Justice Ministry," Azzoaprdi remarks.

"I think some computers of Nexia BT were seized from a ministry building in the Egrant inquiry," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
11:02 Abdilla is asked about the rogatory letters.

After explaining that it is a long process, he said that they are sending the rogatory letters all the information at hand.
Monique Agius
10:58 Azzopardi points out that in 2016 Daphne Caruana Galizia had mentioned Neil Chennoweth, a media partner of the ICIJ, as having mentioned Maltese PEPs.

"You've said that the website was used an open source. How many investigations were triggered by her writings?"

"None, I think."

"There was a national protest at the time. Why didn't the police investigate?" Azzopardi says. He continues, "If I put out an advert in the Sunday Times announcing that I will be carrying out a hold up, wouldn't the police pick me up?"

Abdilla looks stunned. "Hi mistoqsija antipatika" he replies.

"I would have arrested him or put him on police bail or something," Madame Justice Lofaro remarks on the hypothetical scenario.
Monique Agius
10:57 Abdilla makes a remark on the salaries financial analysts have in the iGaming industry versus that given by the Police.
Monique Agius
10:55 Chief Justice Emeritus remarks that enforcement is an issue in the country.

"I don't think that enforcement is only a police issue. The MFSA, the FIAU, etc, were not pari passu with the industry which was growing rapidly," the former ECU head said.
Monique Agius
10:49 "If I had to bet, the documents seized appear authenticate and genuine," Abdilla says.

He says that he met Schembri twice. Then he says that he has never met Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat. He only saw them at the inquiry.

He is asked about Montenegro.

On Cifidex, he explains that they came across it from a transaction with 17 Black. More evidence emerged from seized electronic equipment.

Rogatory letters were sent to other countries, Abdilla says.

"Had we had the expertise and the resources we have now, then, we could have functioned better," Abdilla remarks.

There are about 82 officers at the ECU by the time he left. In 2016, it was at 36 officers.

"The amount of work there is to do. I've pushed for 22 police inspectors at ECU. Currently there are 4 and 8 training," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
10:46 Chief Justice Said Pullicino asks about the raid at Fenech's where the police seized the Memorandum and Articles of 17 Black.

The documents were sent to Dubai for authentication. "I cannot take a document that I had never seen the likes of before and say this is genuine."

"As a consequence, a number of people were identified for questioning," Abdilla tells the board.
Monique Agius
10:43 Azzopardi asks the witness to explain why the Police initially said that there was "no case" in Pilatus Bank and after the criminal complaint was made by Muscat there was a case, Abdilla says that he was not involved.

"I find it hard to believe that the head of the Economic Crimes Unit was not involved," Madame Justice Lofaro remarks.

"I was not informed." he says again.
Monique Agius
10:41 "When Egrant started I had spoken to several magistrates and some had told me that they wouldn't have given me the warrant on the evidence I had. I had sought advice from several magistrates," Abdilla tells the court on his own initiative.

"If it were me, I wouldn't have discussed it with you. We're not there for advice. It's not ethical." Madame Justice Lofaro remarks.
Monique Agius
10:39 "When you want to seize something from someone's house as a police officer, what do you do?" Azzopardi asks.
"Get a warrant," Abdilla replies.
"From who?" Azzopardi asks
"The duty magistrate" Abdilla replies.
"So we're in early May and despite all this evidence, you didn't feel the need to go to the duty magistrate and ask him for a warrant?" Azzopardi asks.
"We would be careful to make sure we had all the evidence," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
10:37 Azzopardi gives a timeline to the witness:

– the shredding of the papers at Nexia BT
– In March 2016 there was already a breach of Mossack Fonesca's servers and there were the riots in Brazil
– April 2016 there's Caruana Galizia's blog post.
– In early May, they had sought AG's advice.
Monique Agius
10:37 Abdilla says that this had not raised a suspicion either.
Monique Agius
10:35 Had not the fact that the UBO being revealed over Skype been a red light? Azzopardi asks.

Abdilla mumbles something.

Azzopardi refers to another blog post by Daphne Caruana Galizia on Nexia BT on 11 March 2016 [he's referring to this; https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/03/the-large-number-of-rubbish-bags-containing-documents-were-picked-up-by-a-kasco-van/]
Monique Agius
10:33 He refers to a blog post by Caruana Galizia on 11 April 2016 on Egrant – a third Panamanian company – which was incorporated at the same time as Mizzi's and Schembri's.

You and other witnesses said that you've used the Running Commentary as an open source. Did the police investigate then [in April 2016]? Azzopardi asks,

'No. No,' Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
10:33 Dr Azzopardi takes over questioning.
Monique Agius
10:31 Dr Comodini Cachia asks about the phone call to the Commissioner.

He says he called Cutajar at 8.30-9pm. He was instructed not to go to the Police Headquarters. Abdilla says that he had understood that the Commissioner was going to seek legal advice. It was around 10pm when he then went to the police headquarters.

"Did you ask whether the advice was sought? And who gave it?" Comodini Cachia asks.

Abdilla sighs saying he was not sure. "At one point advice was mentioned. But I wouldn't know".
Monique Agius
10:29 Egrant was made public a month before Operation Green, in 2016. How did you not make a connection?

Abdilla says that yes it was mentioned. "At the time we did not consider Egrant."

"We got to know that Sadr Hasheminejad the day after we questioned him. The day we questioned him he went to sleep over at a friend," Abdilla explains.
Monique Agius
10:25 The next question concerns the seizing of Nexia BT's server and why they did not do so in 2016. What did you expect to find in 2017? During the police investigation did you investigate the connection between the Panama Papers and Egrant. Did you investigate the connection between Egrant, Hearnville, Tillgate, MacBridge, Dr Comodini Cachia asks.

Abdilla says rogatory letters were sent to Panama.

"When we sent rogatory letters to Panama, it was not only about Egrant. It was about Hearnville, Tillgate, and others," Abdilla says, adding that a lot of time had passed since then.
Monique Agius
10:25 Abdilla's answer is taken as a refusal to answer.
Monique Agius
10:22 Dr Comodini Cachia takes to questioning about this.

She points out that a year before the criminal complaint, there was a report by the FIAU suspecting money laundering a year before. How do you explain that the police took action only as soon as the prime minister made a criminal complaint.

Abdilla says he already explained.

Lofaro tells the witness that now he is being to compare the situation and why no action was taken then.

'I have already explained this last time. The police investigates
according to the evidence at hand,' Abdilla says.

'You are not replying to the question and not even addressing the question,' Madame Justice Lofaro remarks.
Monique Agius
10:19 Chief Emeritus asks about the email originating from Nexia BT in which Mossak Fonesca was informed that the name of Egrant's owner will be given over Skype.

Did the police ask Brian Tonna whose name he had given over Skype? Mallia demands. "It is a simple direct question."

Abdilla says that Tonna insisted that Egrant it was his. He continues giving a long winded answer and avoided answering. He says that it was normal to communicate over Skype.

Mallia says but did you ask for the name and why was Skype used?

Abdilla says it is explained in the Egrant report.
Monique Agius
10:17 Did Sadr Hasheminejad have a residence in Malta? Madame Justice Lofaro asks.

"He would either stay in a hotel. Then we had found out he has a home in Malta. I can't recall if it was registered on him or his wife," Abdilla replies on Sadr Hasheminejad.
Monique Agius
10:16 The allegations about Egrant had been floating around for some time. Some had alleged it belonged to John Dalli. But on the day that it was alleged that it belonged to Michelle Muscat, Muscat had filed a criminal complaint, Abdilla explains.
Monique Agius
10:15 The first person to enter the place was then Magistrate Aaron Bugeja. Employees of Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank had to wait outside, Abdilla recalls.
Monique Agius
10:13 Chief Justice Emeritus tells the witness, "you knew about them leaving and you allowed all that time. Don't you think that by sitting on it, you might have missed out on important evidence?"

"You had to be living in the situation," Abdilla says.

Cutajar, Valletta, were there.

On the day, Magistrate Bugeja was duty magistrate.

A police officer was stationed outside the door of Pilatus Bank and Nexia BT.
Monique Agius
10:11 At around 10pm that Dr Edward Gatt had come with the criminal complaint by then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. It was about allegations of defamation and possible money laundering.

Why didn't the AG sign the criminal complaint? Lofaro asks

Gatt was Joseph Muscat's personal lawyer, he explains.
Monique Agius
10:11 "The Commissioner was having dinner at Mgarr…" Madame Justice Lofaro.

He says that the Commissioner had told him not to go back to work yet. He says that the police had sought legal advice on what action to take and the advice was to not intervene.
Monique Agius
10:06 "During the first sitting in which you testified, you told us that Ali Sadr Hasheminejad exiting Pilatus Bank was not a live feed but a recorded video," Said Pullicino recalls.

"Yes. The journalists were summoned to testify and explained during the inquiry," Abdilla says. He was informed by others about the video. He had just arrived home when he saw the video of Sadr Hasheminejad leaving Pilatus Bank.

Madame Justice Abigail Lofaro asks what time did they go to Pilatus Bank following the video.

Abdilla says he had a long day. He had called Silvio Valletta and that he called Commissioner.
Monique Agius
10:03 "The Egrant inquiry also helped the other inquiries on Hearnville. Some documents were then used in the other inquires."

Egrant, Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri, Hearnville, Tillgate were given as keywords to the forensic experts.

"Egrant took 18 months, we tried to close on these allegations."
Monique Agius
10:01 He asks about the ownership of Egrant.

"Brian Tonna insisted it was his, that he bought off the shelf for a possible client. We found no more evidence which contradicted that fact. This includes all the information we got from Panama and from the Panama Papers," Abdilla says. He notes that the scope of the in genere inquiry was narrow.
Monique Agius
10:01 Judge Emeritus Mallia says that he does not have more questions. Chief Emeritus Said Pullicino takes to questioning.
Monique Agius
09:58 Visibly irritated Judge Mallia tells the witness "you had evidence just under your nose and you ignored it? Rivera confirmed himself that there was misappropriation of documents from the bank. And you didn't investigate?"

"Due to the passage of time, I can't be precise and am not in a position to confirm all the details we've discussed with Rivera. But we would have definitely looked into it," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
09:55 Shortly after the statement was issued by Pilatus Bank, slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had written in her blog, that up to that date, the only documents released from the bank were those related to the ownership of Egrant. Did you investigate this? Mallia asks.

"I can't really tell," Abdilla says.

"You are telling me that you've ignored it completely!"

"I can't really tell. There were two inquiries one by then Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera and Magistrate Doreen Clarke," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
09:55 "I don't exclude that Rivera didn't testify about this in the Egrant inquiry," Abdilla continues.

"We spoke to many people during that inquiry. More than likely, during Egrant he was spoken to about it."
Monique Agius
09:54 Rivera was one of the witnesses summoned for the Egrant inquiry. Abdilla says that he was one of the witnesses that testified in possibly multiple sittings during the inquiry in genere.
Monique Agius
09:53 Lawyer Dr Therese Comodini Cachia just walked in.
Monique Agius
09:51 "Had they asked him about these confidential documents and information he was referring tom that he was so upset about?" Mallia asks.

Abdilla says he was not hands on involved at the time and had delegated to an inspector. "I'm not 100% sure but he could be talking about the compliance report and correspondence," he replies.
Monique Agius
09:50 Had the police ask Rivera what he meant by "having its reputation threatened by false and defamatory allegation?" Mallia asks.

"No they hadn't," Abdilla says.
Monique Agius
09:49 'In the course of those weeks, every article in the media we would see them first thing in the morning, the magistrate and I, to look for possible leaks… leads in the investigation. The magistrate had sent for several journalists too,' Abdilla tells the board of inquiry.
Monique Agius
09:46 "I spoke to Riviera on Egrant etc. But I'd imagine the police inspector who investigated the leak, would have spoken to him about this statement released on 11 May 2017," Abdilla tells the court.

Asked if the statement was given to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, Abdilla replies "I don't think so".

Abdilla reaffirms that the Pilatus Bank statement was not given to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja who was tasked with the conducting an in genere inquiry into Egrant, when asked once again if this was exhibited before the court presided over by then Magistrate Bugeja.
Monique Agius
09:44 Abdilla acknowledges he knows him. He says that the police did not question him about the statement was just read out. Rivera was present for all searches at the bank.

Rivera had filed a police report on the "leaks". The "leak" in the statement refers to the compliance visit by the FIAU to the now defunct bank.
Monique Agius
09:44 Mallia says that the statement was signed by Luis Felipe Rivera. Do you know him and did you question him? he asks the witness.
Monique Agius
09:40 Mallia reads out the statement from 11 May 2017.

"Pilatus Bank on May 8, 2017 has commenced legal actions in the USA for defamatory actions. The bank will pursue all parties and individuals all legal action…" Mallia is reading out.

"The Bank will actively pursue all parties and individuals, directly and indirectly involved in making such harmful allegations being broadcast on national television, radio, and published in national newspapers as well as online news sites in all international competent courts for commercial and punitive damages due to irreparable harm to the Bank and its stakeholders."

"The Bank has also filed a criminal complaint with the Maltese police for the leak of confidential documents and information from documents of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) about the Bank to third parties not privy to such information, that were subsequently published. The Bank takes matters of confidentiality extremely seriously and will pursue all individuals and parties who have disclosed information that the law considers as confidential, as well for misappropriating confidential information of the Bank including trade secrets with swift international and local legal actions for all damages."

"There are laws that prohibit the Bank from discussing FIAU or any regulatory agency reports and their contents and thereby prevent it from being able to respond directly to statements published alongside the "leaked" alleged FIAU report. Those laws also require that such reports, their contents, and conclusive findings are treated with utmost confidentiality."
Monique Agius
09:39 Judge Emeritus Mallia informs the witness that he will ask him about a statement released by Pilatus Bank.
Monique Agius
09:39 Ian Abdilla takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
09:37 The board of inquiry has entered the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:35 Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Peter Caruana Galizia who assisting the family are also present in the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:34 We're in Hall 22. Witness Ian Abdilla is already in the courtroom. Lawyer Prof. Ian Refalo who is assisting the witness, is also present.
Monique Agius
09:30 Good morning and welcome to this live blog.
Monique Agius