Lawyer steps down from Gozo drugs inquiry, but PN also objects to his replacement
Updated 6.50pm - Lawyer Frank Testa has asked the prime minister to relieve him from the inquiry into alleged political interference in a drugs investigation in Gozo, saying a member of his legal office has a familial link with one of the persons allegedly involved.
The Nationalist Party had hit out at Dr Testa's appointment, citing a tweet he sent two years ago strongly supporting the government.
Dr Muscat thanked Dr Testa for his work and regretted he had been subjected to unfair political criticism. He appointed Dr John Vassallo instead.
But the Nationalist Party pointed out that Dr Vassallo is a former Labour candidate. It said that the government was clearly against holding an independent inquiry.
The PN pointed out that only a few days ago, Dr Vassallo was also appointed Deputy Chairman of the Lands Authority.
In an obvious reference to the Capital One inquiry which involves Beppe Fenech Adami, the PN noted that for one case the government appointed an inquiry formed of three retired judges, but in a case where it was involved, it appointed a bogus inquiry.
Dr Testa, a lawyer with Mamo TCV, had been appointed by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to look into allegations made by Malta Today last Sunday.
According to the newspaper, a statement given to the Gozo police during a drug-related investigation in the summer of 2013 was changed following a meeting involving “two senior politicians” and family members of the suspects.
In 2013 Dr Testa, president of the Sliema Waterpolo club, were appointed by then police minister Manuel Mallia to sit on the Police Academy board.
Dr Testa is also an adviser to a number of government entities, including the Malta Tourism Authority.
The Nationalist Party published a number of tweets by Dr Testa, which, it said, clearly showed his support for the party in government.
Contacted yesterday by Times of Malta, Dr Testa had said he did not see any conflict of interest. However, he added that if during the conduct of this inquiry he felt there was a conflict, he would inform the Prime Minister accordingly.
It was pointed out to Dr Testa that he was tasked to investigate the conduct of police officers and, potentially, the person politically responsible for them, who happened to be the minister who had appointed him to serve as a member of the Police Academy board. Dr Testa pointed out that he no longer forms part of the Police Academy board as “this body has been abrogated”.
Asked how he would investigate the same minister who had appointed him, Dr Testa said he would not like to comment further “in order not to shed any light on what might happen in the inquiry”.
He confirmed he had received payment from the government for consultancy services to State entities, adding the same was true under the previous administration.
The Inquiries Act does not specify who should be eligible to conduct an inquiry, however in the majority of past cases, serving or former members of the judiciary are usually asked to head inquiry boards.
So far, the government has not published the terms of reference of the inquiry entrusted to Dr Testa.
The PN was critical of the Prime Minister’s choice of Dr Testa. “After taking two days to appoint the inquiry, which was enough time for the evidence to be put at risk, the Prime Minister chose to head the inquiry a person who was close to the corrupt clique, including minister Manuel Mallia, who was in charge of the police force when the case took place,” the party said.
The Prime Minister, the PN said, should immediately publish the inquiry’s terms of reference, give its deadline, say whether there were other people assisting Dr Testa and if the names of the politicians involved had been discussed in Cabinet.
In reaction, the Labour Party said it would have been better for PN leader Simon Busuttil to cooperate instead of making allegations and to speak up if he had any information. It said Dr Testa was chairman of the Employment Commission and had been appointed in agreement with the PN when no doubts had been expressed about his impartiality.