21 Mar, 2024 @ 16:30
3 mins read

Gibraltar Chief Minister admits he may use controversial new powers to restrict public access to blockbuster corruption inquiry into his own conduct

THE Gibraltar Chief Minister has admitted that he may use new legislation being rushed through Parliament to withhold evidence from the public in an inquiry into his own conduct.

The government had previously declared that it would not use powers in the new Inquiries bill to hinder or shut down the imminent McGrail inquiry.

But now Fabian Picardo has conceded that ‘what people might be able to hear or see might be restricted on some occasions if the inquiry goes on camera.’

However, Picardo, speaking in the third person, was adamant that, were he to do so, it would ‘not be because they might see something uncomfortable about Fabian Picardo.’ 

“It never even crossed my mind that it should be in my personal interest and it will not oust the inquiry’s ability to look at any evidence, even though it might oust the ability to share that information with the world or with the public in Gibraltar,” he told GBC News.

Picardo
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who is accused of a conflict of interest in rushing through new legislation around public inquiries before an inquiry into his own conduct begins

“I guarantee you if I have to use any power under the new inquiries act in the public interest to restrict information from being in the public, it will be in your interest and your children’s interests.” 

Picardo added that he has ‘worked very hard to be an honest man.’

The investigation, slated to start on April 8 after two years of delays, is looking into whether Picardo placed inappropriate pressure on former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail, 58.

It will also examine whether the Chief Minister interfered in police investigations before McGrail’s shock retirement in June 2020.

The admission that the new legislation will give Picardo the ability to withhold information in the inquiry from the public – a power previously in the hands of the inquiry chair, Sir Peter Openshaw – has shocked many.

The opposition Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) said it would ‘affect public confidence in this process.’

They added it bore the hallmarks of ‘a person […] running scared at the prospect of allowing the public to hear the evidence.’

“This is nothing short of a scandal,” declared opposition leader Keith Azopardi in a statement.

“For Mr Picardo to ask people to believe he would be using those powers in the public interest is a step too far for most people. 

“He is clearly trying to sidestep the Chairman [Sir Peter Openshaw] who has already decided a number of those things or whose judgement he does not wish to defer to.

“This all demonstrates that this is not about modernisation but rather about a power-grab so he can use these new powers for politically self-serving purposes in an Inquiry which is hearing allegations about his own conduct. 

Lawyers for McGrail told the Olive Press that they ‘deprecate [Picardo’s] suggestion that the last minute attempt to alter the rules in the rushed ’emergency’ Inquiries Bill 2024 are not for the benefit of Mr McGrail or of the Inquiry or of Gibraltar or of the Rule of Law.’

Transparency International UK noted that the entire set-up is a conflict of interest through and through.

“What might give some assurance is if the government disapplied those powers in the bill that present major conflicts of interest for the current inquiry,” head of investigations Steve Goodrich told the Olive Press.

“If this really is about just improving the agility of proceedings then there’s no need to apply provisions that would tilt the scales squarely in the No. 6 [Convent Place]’s favour. 

“Applying carve outs to these controversial clauses is relatively simple to draft, yet the chief minister hasn’t sought to reassure people by doing so.”

Despite Picardo’s best protestations, many now fear that the McGrail inquiry is fatally compromised.

Former Police Commissioner Iain McGrail announced he was retiring in June 2020 after serving just two years of a four-year term, without revealing his reasons behind the move at the time.

The Olive Press is aware of the allegations but will await the inquiry before publishing them.

The government went on to claim the former commissioner resigned because he had lost Picardo’s confidence and that of the then-Governor of Gibraltar, Nick Pyle.

The decision to retire early after 36 years with the Royal Gibraltar Police provoked fierce speculation and questions in parliament, with McGrail himself calling for the matter to be properly investigated.

An inquiry was set up at the request of the Chief Minister in February 2022, but it has since been dogged by a constant stream of delays and controversies, including Covid, a March 2023 data leak and ‘logistical problems’ in finding an appropriate judge.

In a further shock twist, McGrail was arrested for sexual assault in April 2023, but later cleared of all charges.

The inquiry’s most recent September 2023 start date was delayed once again over a criminal investigation into whether former and current police officers who testified against McGrail had received inducements.

READ MORE:

Walter Finch

Walter - or Walt to most people - is a former and sometimes still photographer and filmmaker who likes to dig under the surface.
A NCTJ-trained journalist, he came to the Costa del Sol - Gibraltar hotspot from the Daily Mail in 2022 to report on organised crime, corruption, financial fraud and a little bit of whatever is going on.
Got a story? [email protected]
@waltfinc

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Story

Train travel costs to plummet in Spain: Ouigo will expand to Andalucia, Murcia and Valladolid with tickets from €9

Next Story

Is buying from Temu safe? Beware of these five common frauds on the Chinese shopping platform – which has soared in popularity in Spain

Latest from Gibraltar

Go toTop

More From The Olive Press