8 Apr, 2024 @ 17:43
3 mins read

Day one of Gibraltar’s corruption inquiry into the retirement of police chief Ian McGrail: Search warrant against high-ranking legal figure under the spotlight

THE first day of the McGrail hearings were dominated by the circumstances surrounding the issuing of a search warrant against a key Gibraltar legal figure.

Former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail was in attendance as the investigation into the events that led to his early retirement on June 9, 2020, finally got under way.

An absent Chief Minister Fabian Picardo issued a statement saying that he was ‘very pleased’ that the much-delayed inquiry ‘has now begun’.

He also referenced the highly controversial restriction order his government had put in place on Friday and the ‘small amount of material’ that will be now considered behind closed doors.

The inquiry chair, Sir Peter Openshaw, acknowledged these new limitations on his powers in his opening remarks but said he was ‘confident that the inquiry can properly proceed.’

McGrail at day one of the hearing
Ian McGrail (right) leaving the hearing on day one of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding his early retirement. Credit: WALTER FINCH

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Legal sources confirmed to the Olive Press that the restricted information was minimal, paving the way for a five-week inquiry into the events leading up to McGrail’s resignation to go ahead without further outcry.

Figures in Whitehall will be hoping that the investigation into the conduct of key figures in the Gibraltar government will not overshadow fresh reports of an imminent deal between the UK and Spain.

The first day of the McGrail Inquiry coincided with a report in the Times that the two countries are ‘??on the brink of signing a critical agreement over the future of Gibraltar.’

Both Picardo, who is playing a key role in the negotiations with Spain, and the then-interim Governor of Gibraltar, Nick Pyle, claim they independently ‘lost confidence in McGrail’ over a series of 10 ‘issues.’

READ MORE: Gibraltar government is rushing through new bill with ‘sole purpose’ of imposing banning order, claims lawyer in corruption inquiry

Among them were the arrests of British Ministry of Defence officials at Gibraltar airport on March 1, 2017, and a botched investigation into an assault against an RAF helicopter pilot in March 2017 – both before McGrail had been appointed Chief of Police.

Included in his reign is the ‘unlawful killing’ of two alleged smugglers in a collision with a Gibraltar patrol boat in Spanish waters in March 2020. 

But the critical issue seems to be the ‘conspiracy investigation’ into ‘the alleged hacking and/or sabotage of the National Security Centralised Intelligence System (NSCIC).’

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo did not attend the first day

McGrail’s Royal Gibraltar Police executed a search warrant against Hassans senior partner James Levy on 12 May, 2020, which included police entering his home and confiscating his devices.

At the time, the police had reason to believe that Levy was a suspect in a scheme to illegally transfer the intellectual property of the NSCIC to a firm that he had a 10% stake in – and Gibraltar’s Chief Minister 3%. 

Fearing that Levy might destroy evidence if he was given a ‘production order’ to produce his electronic devices within seven days, they instead issued a more aggressive search warrant.

Picardo and a ‘highly emotional’ Attorney General Michael Llamas then called McGrail into a meeting that day and gave the police chief the strongest upbraiding of his 36-year career.

“I used robust language that may have been laced with expletives,” Picardo admitted in his affidavit to the Inquiry.

The pair McGrail accused of lying to them about whether he had sought legal advice before executing the search warrant, contributing to their ‘loss of confidence’ in him.

The counsel for the inquiry, Julian Santos, told the chair that he found McGrail’s reasoning that Levy would destroy evidence if issued only a production order ‘unsatisfactory and generic’.

On the other hand, he also acknowledged that what Picardo might have thought of as ‘raising valid points’ could still constitute political interference into a live police investigation.

Picardo admitted in his statements to the Inquiry that he had had ‘frequent conversations’ with Levy – who he has described as a ‘friend, colleague and mentor’ – about the search warrants.

Santos also noted that Whatsapp conversations between Picardo and Levy were conspicuously absent from submissions to the Inquiry – ‘something to ask about in questioning.’

In the event, Levy was never charged in what was called ‘Operation Delhi’ and the investigation was discontinued in January 2022.

The Inquiry, which was characterised as ‘inquisitorial’ rather than ‘adversarial’, will run until May 9, with final submissions expected on June 25 and 26.

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]

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