Former finance minister says candidates for FIAU board of directors are ‘political appointees’

Former finance minister Edward Scicluna claimed that those on the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit’s governance board are “political appointees” and insisted it was his prerogative to name one of the three names proposed by the respective institutions and that he did not need to justify it.

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Scicluna appeared before the Information and Data Protection Appeals Tribunal on Tuesday, after Republika President Robert Aquilina filed a complaint after police denied a request for access to the information asking him to provide a list of all those nominated to sit on the FIAU board of governors – a list that would include former deputy commissioner Silvio Valletta – who was at the time married to a Labor politician and former minister, and who eventually retired from policing in 2019 amid reports of his conflicts of interest with the government and murder suspect Yorgen Fenech.

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On Tuesday, Scicluna insisted he exercised his discretion when selecting Deputy Police Commissioner Silvio Valletta and appointing him to the FIAU governing board.

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His statement apparently contradicted his testimony before the public inquiry into the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Prior to being appointed Governor of the Central Bank, Scicluna served as Minister of Finance between 2013 and 2020. In his testimony, Scicluna referred to the Money Laundering Prevention Act and stated that the Minister was empowered to appoint the members of the FIAU Board of Directors. Scicluna insisted that it is the minister’s prerogative to appoint people to the council, adding that the person is called a “politically appointed person”.

The former Minister argued that this prerogative was not limited to the governing board of FIAU and mentioned the board of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) as an example.

He explained that the candidates are all equally eligible for the post, and pointed out that the Minister has the discretion to appoint whom. He added that there was no ranking or examination.

Asked about Valletta’s appointment, Scicluna reiterated that it was his prerogative and stressed that he didn’t need to justify it.

Attorney Sarah Cannataci, who assists Aquilina, cited Scicluna’s testimony before the public inquiry commission. Scicluna had testified in August 2020 and said Valletta had been chosen on the basis of seniority.

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Scicluna said he stood by the testimony he gave earlier and said he had nothing to add to the transcript after Cannataci read it.

When asked why Valletta was chosen when there was another person older than him, Scicluna again pointed out that there was no review or ranking.

The attorney referred him to his testimony, in which he said he was told another candidate was about to retire, and Scicluna said, “I’m free to decide. The established criteria were mine.

The presiding judge, Noel Camilleri, explained that Aquilina was asking for the names of the other candidates, which were not in the public domain. Scicluna remarked that he assumed these people wouldn’t even know they had been nominated for the job.

The candidate whom Scicluna learned was about to retire was a reference to former deputy police commissioner Pierre Calleja. At the time of the appointment, Calleja was superintendent.

Calleja had served on the FIAU board since its inception and had been the highest-ranking police officer on the board.

The man had remained in the force and served for a total of 29 years. He was even promoted to deputy commissioner.

Calleja was called to testify on Tuesday and was the last witness to speak before the session adjourned.

In an interview with MaltaToday, given around the same time as the FIAU board selection, Calleja said his retirement was “a long way”. The former deputy commissioner left the force just two years later, erasing La Valette’s appointment to the board, according to Repubblika.

During his testimony, Calleja insisted that he had retired and not resigned from the police force and explained that at one point in 2011 he had been close to resigning, but that a sense of duty resurfaced.

The first witness on Tuesday morning was former police commissioner Lawrence Cutajar who also testified. The much criticized former police commissioner served between 2016 and 2020.

Cutajar said the council had already been formed when he was appointed police chief. Asked by Cannataci who compiled the 2017 list, Cutajar said he wanted to see the document before testifying.

A redacted version containing the list of nominees was provided to Aquilina following an order from the Data Protection Commissioner. Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà, who was also present during the first part of Tuesday’s session, did not object to the filing of the document in the case file.

Cutajar confirmed that his signature was on the letter shown to him, but stopped short of answering the question of who created the list.

The former police commissioner explained that although the law is silent on the ranking of appointees to the post, it was normal practice for appointees to be selected from the ranks of superintendent and above.

As for the 2019 roster, Cutajar said he created the roster himself.

Attorney Sarah Cannataci assisted Robert Aquilina.

Attorney Miguel Degabriele appeared on behalf of the state’s attorney’s office.

The case continues on October 4.

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