12 Apr, 2024 @ 11:15
4 mins read

MCGRAIL INQUIRY: Who is Gibraltar’s ‘grey man in the shadows’? Testimony from lead detective sheds further light on events leading up to police chief’s sudden retirement

THE ‘grey man’ of Gibraltar, so long in the shadows, might finally be moving into the light.

This was the inescapable conclusion of day four of the blockbuster inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the forced retirement of Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail on June 9, 2020.

As it has all week, the testimony heard by chair Sir Peter Openshaw was inexorably pulled towards a figure described as a ‘pillar of the community’.

An individual whose standing was so respected that even the police admitted that he received ‘preferential treatment’.

READ MORE: 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

Gibraltar’s ‘grey man’ comes out of the shadows: Hassans senior partner James Levy has been at the heart of the McGrail Inquiry

For despite the government’s claims that a series of separate ‘issues’ caused them to ‘lose confidence’ in McGrail, all the inquiry’s roads seem to lead to the glass doors of the law firm Hassans, and its senior partner James Levy.

Levy was the benefactor who ‘injected a large sum of money’ into 36 North Ltd, a company which was found to be at the heart of an alleged hacking and fraud case that threatened Gibraltar’s national security.

The influence of Levy – ‘the most powerful lawyer in Gibraltar’ – was on full display in the minutes and hours after police attempted to execute a search warrant on him on May 12, 2020.

When Superintendent Paul Richardson and a colleague arrived at the prestigious law firm’s offices in Queensway, ‘all hell broke loose’, according to MaGrail’s lawyers.

Levy, 69, cordially thanked the officers for their ‘discretion’ during an interaction in which he voluntarily handed over his phone and tablet.

But the moment they left, he immediately started making furious calls.

The Inquiry heard how a ‘very aggrieved’ Levy called the Attorney General, Michael Llamas, within minutes of Richardson leaving his offices.

Records showed that when they finally managed to speak on Whatsapp, Levy told him he felt he had been ‘hung out to dry’.

READ MORE: MCGRAIL INQUIRY: The ‘triple conflicted’ Chief Minister Fabian Picardo forced police boss out of his job ‘to protect the most powerful lawyer in Gibraltar’ 

Retired Superintendent Paul Richardson giving evidence at the McGrail Inquiry on day four. Credit: GBC

The Attorney General responded: “Don’t worry.”

Richardson, who was the detective in charge of the case, told the Inquiry it was ‘very worrying’ that the Attorney General had ‘reassured a suspect in a live police investigation.’

Exactly 28 days after that fateful Tuesday in May 2020, McGrail, Gibraltar’s top police officer, was forced to resign.

Contemporaneous notes from Richardson saw Levy described as ‘the grey man.’

‘The grey man feels let down and betrayed,’ it reads.

Richardson told Julian Santos, the Counsel to the McGrail Inquiry, the ‘grey man’ referred to the Hassans senior partner – although it was not a name the police officer had come up with himself.

“Can I ask why you referred to him as grey man?” Santos pressed.

“I think that [it’s] referring to the fact that he was in the shadows and therefore not out in the light,” Richardson responded.

It is thanks to Operation Delhi, a police investigation commenced on October 15, 2018, that daylight might finally be falling on the ‘grey man’.

It was a probe into the alleged hacking and fraud of the National Security Centralised Intelligence System (NSCIS) system that monitored Gibraltar’s border with Spain.

The case involved alleged criminal wrongdoing by a series of high-ranking individuals, including the secretary to the Deputy Chief Minister, the CEO of Gibraltar’s Borders and Coast Guard, and Levy himself.

READ MORE: Gibraltar holds its breath as the McGrail corruption inquiry finally gets underway next week – with the eyes of the world watching

Former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail (far right) arriving at the hearing accompanied by his legal team. Copyright Walter Finch

So sensitive was the information contained within the NSCIS system that the alleged hacking was described as ‘the intentional compromise of the national security of Gibraltar.’

While his men were heading to the Hassans offices with a search warrant in their back pocket, McGrail informed the Chief Minister of the impending visit by Whatsapp.

Picardo called it a ‘bad idea’ in his reply, but seemed to remain calm. Yet just a couple of hours later he called McGrail into his office and gave him the ‘strongest dressing down’ of his career.

The government’s official reason for Picardo’s fury was the claim that McGrail lied to him over whether he had sought legal advice before sending his officers to Levy’s offices.

Richardson, in his testimony, disputed the government’s version of events.

He alleged that while Christian Rocca, the Directer of Public Prosecutions, had expressed a preference for a less intrusive ‘production order’ over a search warrant, they would ‘back the police whatever they decided to do.’

He went on to say he was ‘shocked’ that Hassans had supposedly become aware of what the legal advice was to the police when obtaining the search warrants.

Llamas is recorded as saying in a meeting that ‘it must have come from the conversation between Ian [McGrail] and the Chief Minister.’

The retired officer called the notion ‘concerning’ and ‘not appropriate.’

When pressed, Richardson pointed out that Picardo had ‘an interest’ in the outcome of the investigation by virtue of his business relationships with Levy.

Richardson then relayed that he felt ‘under pressure to adopt a different procedure for Levy than we would’ve done for other people.’

Ultimately, Levy’s devices were returned without being opened, he was never charged, and Operation Delhi was shut down, citing matters of ‘national security.’

When asked why he believed McGrail had retired, Richardson said ‘all the evidence we’d seen said it was [because of Operation Delhi].’

“If […] at that stage we’d known that the Commissioner had been removed because of Operation Delhi and it was because of the warrant that we had executed with Mr Levy, it would — it would affect how we would deal with other investigations. 

“It would affect how we dealt with crime in Gibraltar,” the former superintendent concluded.

The inquiry continues.

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

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