Tista' taqra bil- Malti.
Legal experts who spoke to this newsroom voiced their concerns about a breach of the law when the resignations handed in by at least seven police officers were accepted. 41 polices officers were arrested over the alleged overtime abuse and other fraud. An investigation into the traffic police unit started following a letter by a whistleblower who spoke about ongoing abuse within the unit. The investigation will be widened to other units, according to media reports.
Legal experts speaking to Newsbook.com.mt said that they suspect there was a breach of the law when resignations from officers under investigation were accepted since this meant that such officers would enjoy their service pension.
According to the Police Act, however, the Home Affairs Minister shall not approve resignations in three circumstances – when one is subject to disciplinary proceedings, or when one charged with an offence which can be tried before a court of criminal jurisdiction or when one has rendered themselves liable to be dismissed or removed from the Force.
A police officer cannot resign at will, legal experts told this newsroom. They explained that once an officer was under arrest and interrogated, the officers would have to face the Public Service Commission and would probably be sacked. In the current circumstances, since their resignation was accepted, the officers will still receive a service pension despite having to face proceedings in court.
Overtime racket probe:
- 11 February: Times of Malta revealed that around 30 police officers within the traffic section in the Police Force have been arrested and suspended from work after an investigation stated that they have been allegedly abusing overtime. The investigation was launched following an anonymous letter sent to the former Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar and then Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia. From the details which transpired in the media, it was later revealed that officers received “protection money” from construction companies and allegations concerning misappropriation of fuel.
- 11 February: Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri confirmed that the investigation was launched following the whistleblower’s letter.
- 11 February: Walter Spiteri who was back in the Police Force in 2017 after he completed his 25 years of service resigned as Police Superintendent. Spiteri used to head the traffic unit. His resignation was accepted according to a police media statement.
- 12 February: A total of 41 police officers were arrested in connection with the ongoing probe, according to a press statement released by the Police. 31 officers were out on police bail, 25 officers were suspended while seven had handed in their resignation. That is around 80% of the traffic unit’s full complement.
- 12 February: The Opposition urged the Government to appoint the new Police Commissioner by consensus.
- 12 February: The alleged overtime racket hits international headlines – including Reuters and the New York Times.
- 13 February: Prime Minister Robert Abela claims that the institutions are working and that the difficult decisions were being taken.
- 14 February: Local media reported that officers demanded sexual favours in return for having fines forgiven.
- 14 February: Former Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia dismissed claims to shoulder political responsibility saying that he would have done so had he not acted on the case.
- 14 February: The Malta Police Force issued an internal call for police officers who want to join the traffic section after nearly all police officers forming part of this unit were suspended or arrested over an investigation for suspected overtime abuse and accusations they misappropriated fuel and used it for their own private vehicles.
- 15 February: Opposition Leader Adrian Delia asked if the new Prime Minister Robert Abela was informed about this situation by the former Home Affairs Minister, Michael Farrugia who knew investigations were underway.
- 16 February: Rule of law NGO Repubblika demands a public inquiry into the case.
What does the Police Act say?
According to the Police Act, any member of the Force who wishes to resign or withdraw from their duties shall give to the Minister such prior notice, not exceeding thirty days, as the Minister may require by notice in the Gazette, of his intention to resign or withdraw himself from his duties. Article 15(2) lays down the circumstances when a resignation should not be accepted.
Legal experts described it as an insult to the public if the officers are going to be charged in court, but have had their resignations accepted so as not to forfeit their service pensions. They reiterated that the law was clear on this point, and that officers who will be charged would lose their right to a service pension, had their resignations been rejected pending procedures in court.
Others said that the Minister had two choices – either to refuse their resignation or accept it on condition that certain benefits will be lost upon termination of service.
According to statistics tabled in Parliament in 2015, 15 officers had been charged in court between 2013 and June 2015. The information was tabled by then Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela. The officers were charged with tampering of evidence, corruption, accepting bribes and aggravated theft.
The police called for anyone who had any information in relation to these cases to pass it on, even in a confidential manner, on tel: 2294 2201, e-mail: email@example.com.