VALLETTA (Reuters) - Well over half of Malta’s traffic police force, including its chief, have been arrested for suspected overtime fraud, after an anonymous tip off from a whistleblower.
Officials said 37 of the country’s 50 traffic cops had been detained on suspicion they had filed for hundreds of hours of non-existent overtime over at least a three-year period.
The small Mediterranean island has been struggling with an image problem in recent years, following allegations of widespread corruption, cronyism and financial wrongdoing amongst the political and business elite.
The head of the traffic police force, Walter Spiteri, is suspected of himself claiming for motorcycle-related allowances even though he used a chauffeur-driven car.
“The superintendent in charge of the traffic section submitted his resignation yesterday, and it has been accepted,” the police said in a statement on Wednesday. Spiteri was not immediately available for comment.
Some of the traffic police also face accusations they misappropriated fuel and used it for their own private vehicles.
Motorists said there were noticeably fewer police directing traffic on Wednesday, even though former traffic police have been asked to return to their old duties, according to police sources.
Prime Minister Robert Abela said it was good that the police were investigating their own people.
“This confirms that we have a functioning police force. If these investigations lead to people being taken to court or to disciplinary action being taken, then that is what will happen,” he told reporters.
The opposition Nationalist Party said the police had been undermined by the same “culture of corruption and impunity” evident in many walks of life.
Abela was sworn in as prime minister last month after his predecessor resigned over his handling of investigations into the murder of anti-corruption journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The traffic police investigation was opened following a whistleblower’s letter to the police commissioner detailing how officers were cashing in on duties they never performed. The Times of Malta broke news of the case on Tuesday.
Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Angus MacSwan and Alexandra Hudson