Five police officers were brought before the courts yesterday in relation to the overtime allowances abuse scandal.
The first three were Superintendent Walter Spiteri, Inspector Nikolai Sant and Inspector Pierreguido Saliba, who were charged with several offences relating to overtime. The last two, Sergeants, were brought before the courts later in the day.
Arraigned separately by summons, the first three officers, all from the traffic section, pleaded not guilty. 32 police officers are to be charged in total, divided between 4 magistrates.
The alleged abuses with which the first three were charged yesterday related to overtime duties regarding the construction of a flyover at Marsa. Inspector Bernard Bunce from the police internal affairs unit explained to magistrate Audrey Demicoli that he had received a letter from a whistleblower, alleging that the police would be claiming overtime during office hours.
The extra duties would be requested by non-police agencies, outside police hours. An invoice is issued and police are allocated and extra payments are made to the individual officers by the commissioner, Bunce explained.
Police had used the motorcycle’s datatrack system, together with invoices from the accounts section and other data to work out the officers’ whereabouts and what they were claiming. Investigators found that few motorcycles had datatrack working. Some had malfunctioned others hadn’t had it installed as they were new.
“I started investigating Sgt. Norman Xuereb as he was the brain behind the issue. The datatrack data would show that the officers wouldn’t be in the Marsa area during the time claimed. All police involved call logs were taken,” Bunce said.
Norman Xuereb was the liaison officer with Infrastructure Malta and would take care of the overtime, the court was told. It was also established that out of 27 datatrackers installed on police motorcycles, only 7 were functioning. The time and place of extra duties would not correspond with the data from the trackers and mobile phone geolocation data. “The majority of cases showed that they were everywhere but where they should have been,” one witness said.
One Woman Police Sergeant (WPS) Sandra Sillato, who was assigned a desk job, would get fuel payments despite not being assigned a motorcycle, he said.
The global amount of over €47,000 the officers had received was all refunded and so no freezing orders were issued.
A Magisterial inquiry was instituted and arrest warrants issued in February 2020.
Several WhatsApp group chats were found, in which the officers would agree on how to work out the extra duties pay. They would agree on one hour or two at a time instead of full shifts and overlap their duties in this manner, the court was told.
Cross-examining, lawyer Giannella De Marco said that Spiteri had nothing to do with the group chat, the witness agreed.
Not all of the 38 officers interrogated were on the Infrastructure Malta project, the court was told.
Superintendent Jesmond Borg told the court that on 11 February, orders were given to arrest everyone in the traffic section. Inspector Sant returned his motorcycle immediately and his office was sealed. Sant had said that he was using the motorcycle for a year and that it didn’t have datatrack systems installed, the court heard. With regards to the extra duties, he said he had been informed by the liaison officer that the extra duty for inspectors was to remain on standby in case of problems, and did not involve them going on site. Sant had insisted that he would go to work in the morning and then return home on standby till 10pm. Transport Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi had denied this arraignment and had complained several times that no officers were there, Borg said.
The officers had denied knowledge of any tampering with overtime and had insisted that whenever they had found any irregularities they would insist on them being investigated.
Comparison of claims and consumption showed that there was definitely no theft of fuel by the two inspectors, the Superintendent said.
De Marco asked Superintendent Borg about the anonymous letter which had sparked the internal investigation. Had the so-called whistleblower ever been spoken to, she asked. “I wasn’t on duty when the letter arrived….I never spoke to this informer, nor was I spoken to about him. I was involved just three days before the arrests and was brought up to speed.” He didn’t know if the writer had whistleblower status. There were allegations as to who the whistleblower could be but concrete information was never given to him, he said.
In the case of Sant, the inspector had arrived in the section long after the contract was in place. Sant may have been unaware of the abuse, suggested his lawyer. The only issue was that the instruction he was given was that as an inspector he needn’t go to the construction site, but coordinate remotely and be on call till 10pm, Sant had told the investigators
With regards to Saliba, Borg told the court that the inspector didn’t want any money if it was dubious in origin and had immediately refunded it
The court gave a decree of prima facie, paving the way for an eventual indictment, for all three. The case is scheduled for the 22nd September.
Lawyers Giannella Demarco, Stephen Tonna Lowell and Michael Sciriha were defence counsel. Assistant commissioner Ian Abdilla, Superintendent Jesmond Borg and Inspector Bernard Bunce prosecuted.
Later in the afternoon, more cases – Sergeant Clayton Frendo and Sergeant Angelo Briffa- also denied the charges. Frendo was accused of being in Gozo when he had claimed the hours. He had earned some €6000 for the extra duties, which he had since repaid. He also denied the charges. Lawyer Ishmael Psaila defended Frendo. Lawyer Dean Hili appeared for Briffa.
Original article found on The Malta Independent