Repubblika files complaint over authorities’ refusal to provide list of FIAU nominees

Miguela Xuereb

Repubblika has complained to the Data Protection Commissioner after over the authorities’ refusal to provide a list of persons nominated to serve on the board of governors of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit – a list which would include former deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta.

Valletta, who retired from the force last year, was found to have maintained close ties with businessman Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of ordering the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He travelled with Fenech to watch a football match in the UK after Fenech had been identified as a suspect by the police.

The fallout from the revelation led Valletta’s wife Justyne Caruana to resign from Cabinet, days after he was reappointed as Gozo Minister by new Prime Minister Robert Abela.

The NGO’s president-elect Robert Aquilina had requested access last March, under the Freedom of Information Act, from the Malta Police Force and from the Finance Ministry, seeking the list of nominees from 2013 onwards.  But the request was turned down by the Police Commissioner on 17 April, and Aquilina’s request for an internal review of the decision failed to produce the desired result.

Failure to recognise right of access as ‘fundamental human right’

Aquilina argued that there was a failure to properly recognise that the right of access to information was a fundamental human right.  He also contested the exceptions cited by the police under the Freedom of Information Act, stating that potential harm resulting from disclosure was not sufficiently demonstrated, and that the provision of non-disclosure of internal working documents should not apply in this case.

Additionally, Aquilina maintained that there was a clear and strong overriding public interest for the disclosure of documents requested, that a fair balance between right of access and the right to personal data protection was not found, and that even partial access was not considered.

The activist argued that it was clear that it was in the public interest to have the opportunity to verify whether the Finance Minister validly appointed the members of the FIAU’s board of governors, in light of Valletta’s appointment.

He noted that it was clear that Valletta had a very close personal relationship with Fenech, and allegedly colluded with him. Moreover, Valletta was married to a government minister when the FIAU had sought to investigate suspicions of money laundering allegedly committed by high-ranking members and officials of the same government.

Aquilina submitted the complaint in his personal capacity because similar requests by Repubblika were denied, with authorities arguing that the Freedom of Information Act only provided physical persons – and not organisations – with the opportunity to submit requests for information. Madrid-based human rights organisation Access Info Europe is assisting him in his complaint.