Former Police Chief insists on gathering of evidence before questioning

Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar insisted on the need to gather evidence before questioning a person of interest.

Appearing for the second time before the board of inquiry, Cutajar maintained that he could not question anyone before evidence was collected.

During Wednesday’s sitting it also transpired that Deputy Commissioner Silvio Valletta was advised by the Attorney General not to raid Pilatus Bank because all the Police had at hand at the time was a blog and this would not justify a raid. Cutajar said that on the night when Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was filmed outside the bank, he had immediately called Valletta who informed him on the AG’s advice.

In brief:

  • The Operation Green file can be read in under an hour;
  • Cutajar only found out that Silvio Valletta and murder suspect Yorgen Fenech were friends after the recordings were found;
  • The investigation into Pilatus Bank only started after then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat filed a criminal complaint through his lawyers;
  • The police acted on the AG’s advice in the case of Pilatus Bank;
  • Karl Cini was questioned after the Egrant report concluded that he should be investigated for perjury. There were no updates on that investigation until Cutajar was still Commissioner;
  • Keith Schembri was not interrogated in connection to 17 Black;
  • Ramon Mifsud, a police sergeant who had celebrated Caruana Galizia’s murder on Facebook, was suspended immediately. He filed medical certificates before the inquiry board and has never appeared for a sitting.

In August, Cutajar had told the board of inquiry that the reluctance to press charges in cases of suspected corruption concerning top political figures was based on legal advice provided by the attorney general. Cutajar insisted investigators required evidence before pressing charges.

11:26 The next sitting is on Friday.
Monique Agius
11:25 Thank you for following us.
Monique Agius
11:23 There was no reply made by the Prime Minister on the submissions made by the lawyers regarding the deadline.

The Prime Minister was notified in person and via email.
Monique Agius
11:23 Cutajar leaves the witness stand.
Monique Agius
11:20 Dr Azzopardi points out that the country was in uproar after Pilatus Bank owner was seen leaving. He asks the witness whether he had the occasion to speak to the AG in view of what happened.

"I don't remember. What I know is that evening the inquiry started," he says.

It was only after the criminal complaint was investigated that they started investigated, Cutajar maintains, adding that now it was not a question of intelligence but there was a criminal complaint and a magisterial inquiry.
Monique Agius
11:18 Chief Justice Emeritus: In other circumstances you would have investigated. Had you not been given the advice of the AG would you have behaved differently?

Cutajar: Perhaps.
Monique Agius
11:14 Dr Azzopardi says that he was intrigued and shocked when the witness said that Valletta had told him that he had already spoken to the Attorney General.

"You know Mr Cutajar that one of the police's primary duties is the preservation of evidence. Another one is to prevent the commission of the crime. When Valletta told you that the AG had spoken to him. Was there any communication between you and the AG in those 24 hours? Did it surprise you? Were you taken aback?" Dr Azzopardi asks.

"I thought of any consequences applicable if you do not follow the advice of the AG," Cutajar replies. "If you take action, what happens if it results to be ultra vires?"
Monique Agius
11:11 Dr Azzopardi: What led you to say that there no grounds for investigation?

Cutajar: I think that press release was issued before we received the FIAU reports. I have a note on May 2016.

Dr Azzopardi: Let's recap. May 2016 is the AG's advice on Nexia BT servers. This is March 2017.

Cutajar: I don't wake up in the morning and decide to issue a statement, but had done it after speaking to the investigators. The most likely scenario is that the FIAU reports had not arrived yet. In such cases I would consult with the investigators.
Monique Agius
11:10 Dr Azzopardi reads out the press release it concerns Schembri and Mizzi on money laundering.

Cutajar says he does not know why the press release is no longer available online.
Monique Agius
11:08 Dr Azzopardi: 2 March 2017 a press statement [PR/115/17] was issued which cannot be found online.
Monique Agius
11:06 Cutajar says that he does not remember.

Dr Azzopardi says that Cutajar has a good memory and can recall when Inter scored. He continues, you had not replied to the Times of Malta.

Cutajar denies receiving such information a year before.
Monique Agius
11:04 Dr Azzopardi refers to a blog post from April 2015 in which Caruana Galizia had alleged that Keith Schembri received kickbacks from passport sales. He continues, a week later the Times of Malta had published a report saying that Cutajar and the AG were informed about suspicious bank transactions and money laundering suspicions.
Monique Agius
11:03 Dr Azzopardi: Had Ian Abdilla ever informed you that he was making any progress on Karl Cini?

Cutajar: No.
Monique Agius
11:03 Cini was interrogated by ECU investigators.

No charges were pressed against Cini until January 2019, he says confirms.
Monique Agius
11:02 Dr Azzopardi refers to the Egrant inquiry report conclusions in which Magistrate Bugeja had recommended that Karl Cini is investigated for perjury.

Cutajar says that Cini was interrogated in 2018.
Monique Agius
11:00 Dr Azzopardi: Where did the PM get his information from? (referring 22 November briefing)

Cutajar: We were part of a task force, involving the Attorney General, Security Service, Europol, Magistrate. The PM had some information on the issue of the pardon for Melvin Theuma. Briefing were given by the investigators in my presence and that of the AG.
Monique Agius
10:59 Dr Azzopardi: Have you asked for an explanation on why the Prime Minister was doing press briefings instead of the police commissioner?

Cutajar: I was not asked to brief the press. Of course not. We would send press releases.
Monique Agius
10:57 Dr Azzopardi: Two days after the assassination, you and Valletta addressed a press briefing. After that day, the then PM did any public announcements related to the case. The PM had addressed the media on the subject. He had said that the investigations would be concluded in a matter of months. On 22 November Muscat had given a briefing on what Melvin Theuma had said in his interrogations.

Said Pullicino: I would imagine you addressed one of them.

Cutajar: No, no.
Monique Agius
10:56 Dr Azzopardi: Did it occur to you that these sources of rumors were coming from OPM?

Cutajar: No, no.
Monique Agius
10:53 Dr Azzopardi: The day that Caruana Galizia was murdered, there were several coordinated reports that SEMTEX was used and that the motive behind the assassination was fuel smuggling. Maurice Calleja had said that he was convinced that it was manufactured in Malta.What do you know?

Cutajar: I can never understand how he [Calleja] reached this conclusion. At the beginning of the investigation you start looking at the sources, the intelligence. What I can say here is that our investigation was 99% based on forensic evidence.
Monique Agius
10:50 Dr Azzopardi: In August 2015, were you informed later when you became Commissioner that Malta had refused to extradite an Indian national to face money laundering charges. Caruana Galizia had revealed that Lati Modi had Schembri and Adrian Hillman as his contacts in Malta. Modi was picked up by an OPM driver. [https://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/03/lalit-modi-wanted-in-india-for-corruption-and-money-laundering-bought-maltese-citizenship-through-mossack-fonseca-malta/]

Cutajar: At the time I was an officer in immigration, but even later as a commissioner, nobody gave me any information on it
Monique Agius
10:47 Cutajar says that unlike AFM, police are public servants.

"As soon as I got to know about the case, an investigation was launched. A board of inquiry (PSC) was set up. He was suspended on the spot, as that was possible. Each time that there was a hearing, Mifsud would exhibit a medical certificate. He eventually started receiving half pay. Until this year he was receiving half pay. I couldn't do more than that," he says.
Monique Agius
10:46 Dr Azzopardi: Ramon Mifsud, a former police man I think now, had posted on the day. You had told the press that Mifsud was being investigated…

Cutajar: I confirm.

Dr Azzopardi: Until a year later he was still in the police force…

Cutajar: I confirm.

Dr Azzopardi: Until the end of your term, what action was taken?
Monique Agius
10:44 Dr Azzopardi: On the day of the car bomb, there were some leaks from the crime scene, some macabre, which were circulated over social media. Was this fact brought to your attention?

Cutajar: Yes it was brought to my attention and that of the Magistrate. No steps were taken against particular people. Nobody was identified.
Monique Agius
10:44 Dr Azzopardi starts questioning.
Monique Agius
10:44 The investigations continued, he says.
Monique Agius
10:43 Mr Justice Mallia: Despite having said that, you still tried speaking to Yorgen Fenech. Unlike Brian Tonna and Karl Cini…

Cutajar: Last I've explained
Monique Agius
10:42 "The perception of the public in the 80s, was there was a serious crime, a murder. The police would send for ten people who would not cooperate, but the public would see people being arrested. It's like that because a person is not arrested so nothing is being done. It is not the case," Cutajar says.
Monique Agius
10:40 For the third time Chief Justice Emeritus Said Pullicino refers to Cutajar as Theuma.

"Sur Cutajar, Sur Imhallef," the former police commissioner repeats some three times.
Monique Agius
10:39 "No one mentions that the crime rate decreased during my time. No one mentions the drug busts that happened during my short tenure," he complains.
Monique Agius
10:38 "Even because I was a bit old school and tried gathering the evidence first, we have a tsunami. Let alone should I have been an investigator in these cases. They would have asked for capital punishment for sure," Cutajar says.
Monique Agius
10:37 Cutajar says that there are different forms of intelligence which is gathered by different institutions.

If it is the Security Services, they would have shared it with the relevant investigator, he says.

Cutajar says that the commissioner would not know anything.
Monique Agius
10:36 Chief Justice Emeritus: That's not the question. I'm speaking about their links.

Cutajar: They were investigated over other things.
Monique Agius
10:35 Chief Justice Emeritus: Were the people arrested known to the police?

Cutajar: Yes I can confirm. In each case we have investigated.
Monique Agius
10:34 Chief Justice Emeritus says that the last car bomb was the one that killed Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Cutajar says that car bombs happened under different commissioners, but it was when he was police chief that the case was solved.
Monique Agius
10:32 Dr Comodini Cachia asks whether he still has trust in Valletta and Abdilla in the context of the Portomaso outing and the revelations which followed.

He remarks that he was no longer a police commissioner. He says that Abdilla always gave "plausible" briefings.
Monique Agius
10:30 Dr Comodini Cachia asks about a police report filed by Pilatus Bank on the leaks.

Cutajar says that he is not aware that such a police report was filed.

It concerned the documents Caruana Galizia had received.

Cutajar does not recall the press release issued by Pilatus Bank stating that a police report was filed.
Monique Agius
10:28 Chief Justice Emeritus asks what did the police do to determine who owned MacBridge and Egrant.

Cutajar insists that theory that first you question the person then you continue gathering evidence does not hold.

"You need evidence not intelligence. If a person does not want to cooperate with the police, you would have the evidence," he says.

"You had the servers to seize…" Madam Justice Lofaro says.
Monique Agius
10:26 Judge Mallia points out that there was circumstantial evidence and therefore there was a duty to investigate. Circumstantial evidence is not enough to convict, however, this circumstantial evidence was discarded.

"Skuzani Sur Imhallef, ma tifhimx," he replies.
Monique Agius
10:26 In this case there was no shortage of action by the police, he insists.
Monique Agius
10:24 Cutajar says that from his research it did not result that there was ever an investigation which was carried out on the strength of a "simple blog".
Monique Agius
10:21 Mr Justice Mallia: Today we know that Caruana Galizia's blog served as an open source of information. Didn't you seek to speak with her and clarify with her? Not ask for her the source.

Cutajar: It was a form of intelligence.
Monique Agius
10:21 At that moment we did not find any underlying criminal offence, he continues.
Monique Agius
10:20 We couldn't go against the AG's advice, he says.

He says that based on the writings in the Running Commentary they could not go and seal the bank and arrest Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.
Monique Agius
10:19 We started investigating based on that criminal complaint, he says.
Monique Agius
10:17 "As soon as I received the information, I called Silvio Valletta about the case.

Valletta told me that he had just hung up with the AG. I'm sorry I have to testify this. So Valletta had spoken to Peter Grech. Grech's advice to Valletta that what we had in hand was just a blog and no disclosure. There was not enough t justify a raid on the bank.

I left the place and on my way to the office I got a call from Kurt Farrugia, head of OPM communications, and he informed me that Pawlu Lia and Edward Gatt are to come to my office to file a criminal complaint by Muscat," he recalls.
Monique Agius
10:16 On 20 April, Cutajar was having dinner with a group of police officers.
Monique Agius
10:15 "I thank the board for giving me the opportunity to testify what I have testified in the Egrant inquiry. I've been criticised for this," Cutajar says.
Monique Agius
10:15 Chief Justice Said Pullicino asks about Pilatus Bank.
Monique Agius
10:14 A moment of awkward silence in the courtroom.
Monique Agius
10:14 AG advice was only sought concerning Panama Papers, Cutajar says, adding that he does not exclude that the police sought advice on 17 Black.
Monique Agius
10:13 Mercieca leaves the courtroom.
Monique Agius
10:12 Madam Lofaro: If the investigators were going to Portomaso to speak to Fenech, then a decision was made. Why wasn't the appointment rescheduled?

Cutajar: Because the investigation took a different turn.
Monique Agius
10:11 Mr Justice Mallia: Aren't the emails evidence?
Cutajar: Evidence was still being collected.
Monique Agius
10:10 Mr Justice Mallia: Our worry is that despite the FIAU report and all the documents in public domain, you still did not question the person of interest.

Cutajar: With all due respect to question someone you need evidence in hand.
Monique Agius
10:08 Chief Justice Emeritus: The issue is that, had the police taken action on 17 Black, which could have been the motive for the assassination, things could have been different. The first motive could have been the Panama Papers, the second appears to be 17 Black.

Cutajar: We started investigating immediately.
Monique Agius
10:07 Chief Justice Emeritus: Do you feel that Valletta has betrayed you?
Cutajar: Leee (Noo)
Monique Agius
10:05 Keith Schembri was not questioned over 17 Black, Cutajar confirms.

He says that it was because they were still at a stage where evidence was still being gathered.

Cutajar insists that evidence was needed for the disclosure and this does not depend on the information in the public domain.
Monique Agius
10:03 The board points out that Valletta was removed from the case after the family instituted proceedings before the constitutional court.

Dr Victoria Buttigieg had advised on keeping Valletta on the investigation despite concerns of conflict of interest.
Monique Agius
10:03 He does not reply.
Monique Agius
10:01 Cutajar says that Caruana Galizia's murder was the first in a series of car bombings that was solved in two months, with three individuals being arraigned.

Dr Comodini Cachia fires a series of questions, among which Was it Valletta or FBI and Europol that investigated the cell tower data?
Monique Agius
10:01 Dr Charles Mercieca enters the courtroom and is following the proceedings with interest.
Monique Agius
09:59 Cutajar says that it was only after the recordings were found that he found out about Valletta's and Fenech's friendship.
Monique Agius
09:59 "I didn't ask. I didn't feel I should ask," Cutajar says when asked if he asked Valletta how come he knew about Fenech's health.
Monique Agius
09:57 Dr Comodini Cachia asks Cutajar whether he was informed that Abdilla was going to Portomaso to speak to murder suspect Yorgen Fenech about 17 Black.

He confirms. He confirms that Abdilla did not hold the meeting after all, after Valletta had called Abdilla informing him that Fenech was "unwell". He recalls the day as being as a Sunday in 2019.
Monique Agius
09:55 "Was Fenech spoken to?"

"I'm testifying on 17 Black…you need the evidence in your hand. You need the disclosure…as far as I'm aware the 17 Black investigations are still ongoing, let alone at the early stage you mentioned," he says.
Monique Agius
09:54 Cutajar says that the FIAU report on 17 Black was hand delivered by Ian Abdilla on 27 March 2017. We started investigating immediately, he says.

Two investigators Ray Aquilina and Antonvich Muscat were investigating. Banks in Holland, Switzerland, UAE, China and Singapore were contacted.

A local bank did not cooperate.
Monique Agius
09:53 Chief Justice Emeritus says that the same argument applies for 17 Black. There were alarming elements, he remarks.
Monique Agius
09:52 "I got resources or the investigation… added the investigators," he protests.

"I don't think it was a lack of human resources," Madam Justice Lofaro remarks.
Monique Agius
09:51 "At that stage of the investigation, the investigators…" Cutajar says before being cut off by the judge.
Monique Agius
09:50 The board of inquiry is hammering Cutajar.

Why didn't you go for Nexia BT's servers? Madam Justice Lofaro asks repeatedly.

"We were gathering evidence," Cutajar sheepishly replies.
Monique Agius
09:48 Chief Justice Emeritus explains to the former Police Chief that before pressing charges or interrogating a witness, one could question a person of interest. He asks why he did not the same in the case of Karl Cini and Brian Tonna from Nexia BT.

Cutajar says that it might prejudice the case.
Monique Agius
09:46 She presses to the witness if the people involved were interrogated.

He insists that evidence was still being gathered. The police were awaiting for documentation from the banks.

He insists that this documentation is the evidence required.

Before questioning a person, you need the evidence in hand for the disclosure, he insists.
Monique Agius
09:46 Before he proceeds to answer on Pilatus Bank, Dr Comodini Cachia points out that the board of inquiry has seen the Operation Green file which can be read in less than an hour.
Monique Agius
09:44 "What have you done in the case of Pilatus Bank?" Madam Justice Lofaro asks.

The board of the inquiry is already losing its patience with the witness.
Monique Agius
09:42 Chief Justice Said Pullicino asks whether Mizzi and Schembri were questioned.

Cutajar insists that evidence was needed for the disclosure.

Chief Justice remarks that his successor called in Muscat for questioning.

"We're seeing this as an excuse. A delaying tactic. For you not to investigate. Everywhere else in the world there have been investigations, people have resigned. And here?' Mr Justice Mallia says.
Monique Agius
09:41 Cutajar says that he did not discuss the Panama Papers case concerning Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and Egrant with then Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

"I can only speak for myself. I was not the lead investigator in the case. I didn't speak to the PM," he says.
Monique Agius
09:40 The investigators asked the AG for an advice and that was it, he says.

The investigators sought more information overseas.
Monique Agius
09:39 Said Pullicino asks in which context was the update asked for.

Cutajar says that the police had to receive three reports before proceeding further.

"I've explained last time," he says.

He refers to the Attorney General's advice.
Monique Agius
09:38 Chief Justice Emeritus asks about Operation Green. Cutajar says that as soon as he entered office he asked Silvio Valletta and Ian Abdilla for an update on the file.
Monique Agius
09:37 Dr Comodini Cachia points out that last time he was not asked about Pilatus Bank investigation.
Monique Agius
09:36 Cutajar takes the witness stand.
Monique Agius
09:36 The board of inquiry enters the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:30 Dr Comodini Cachia enters the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:25 Lawyer Jason Azzopardi enters the courtroom.
Monique Agius
09:20 We're in Hall 20, today's witness, Lawrence Cutajar, is already here.

The court official has informed us that an electric cable connector extension has been added in the courtroom for the press to make use of. (Thank you!)
Monique Agius
09:13 Good morning and welcome to Newsbook.com.mt live blog.
Monique Agius

The public inquiry into the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is tasked with determining whether the state did all it could to prevent the assassination.

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

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