The Government of Gibraltar is preparing for a public inquiry to hear allegations of corruption

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The Government of Gibraltar is preparing for an explosive public inquiry into the controversial early retirement of its police commissioner, who is said to have been put under “undue pressure” in connection with a sensitive investigation into a security treaty.

A retired judge and a leading human rights lawyer are being flown in from Britain for the inquiry, which will continue this month with a preliminary hearing hearing allegations of corruption in Britain’s overseas territories.

Ian McGrail resigned as Commissioner in June 2020. At the last preliminary hearing in July, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, a barrister at the Bar of England and Wales representing McGrail, said: “His core allegations are that (A) he was unduly pressured [at the highest levels of government] in relation to the conduct of a criminal investigation; and (B) he was subsequently pressured by the same people to apply for early retirement against his will.”

In heavily redacted written submissions, Gallagher said allegations of corruption were “a key part of the subject of the investigation.”

The investigation comes at a difficult time for Gibraltar, which was added to the global money laundering regulator’s list of “jurisdictions with heightened surveillance” and “strategic deficiencies” in June.

Gallagher acted for the family of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in the public inquiry into her murder which last year found the state of Malta – even with corruption issues – guilty.

Renowned human rights attorney Adam Wagner, a colleague at Gallagher’s Doughty Street Chambers, is also a member of McGrail’s legal team. The inquiry is being led by Sir Peter Openshaw, a retired judge of the High Court of England and Wales.

Sir Peter Caruana QC, the former Prime Minister of Gibraltar and Deputy Incumbent as well as Deputy Governor and Attorney General, said they all denied putting any pressure on McGrail and claimed he “decided to retire because he knew that having lost the confidence of the governor and the prime minister, his position would become untenable”.

The factual background section in the submissions for McGrail is fully redacted. However, in discussing the redactions, Caruana referred to a decision not to press charges, adding, “If the subject matter of this paragraph became public knowledge at this stage, Her Majesty’s Counsel would be in very serious trouble.”

The Attorney General issued a decision in January not to prosecute three men, including one of the territory’s most senior officials, accused of conspiring to defraud Bland Ltd, a 200-year-old company with close ties to Gibraltar society and politics .

The Government paid Bland more than £55m for services between 2011 and 2021. The men were accused of undermining Bland’s ability to fulfill his national centralized intelligence system contract with the government, including ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) logging of number plates on vehicles crossing the border.

When the case was dropped for unspecified reasons of “public interest”, Gibraltar’s opposition party, the GSD (Gibraltar Social Democrats), said: “It is an open secret that this case gives rise to evidence related to broader politically uncomfortable matters could be pending or ongoing which the public interest shield has also invoked, such as the early departure of Commissioner McGrail.”

It also said it had the effect of “burying material that is politically inconvenient or harmful” for the country’s prime minister, Fabian Picardo.

Explaining his call for redactions, Caruana said he wanted to protect the government and its clients from “the public shame that attends public opinion, notwithstanding the offices it holds, being prematurely exposed to the accusatory allegations of either side.”

A Gibraltar government spokesman said he was confident the inquiry, which is expected to start in earnest next year, will conclude that McGrail’s resignation is in the public interest.

“The false accusations made by the GSD in relation to the Bland case and the Attorney General’s actions in this matter are untrue,” they said.

“There is absolutely no connection, factual or legal, between the Attorney General’s actions in the Bland case and the commission of inquiry into the former police commissioner’s retirement.”

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