27 Jun, 2024 @ 19:00
3 mins read

Gibraltar facing calls for a Conflicts of Interest Act as the McGrail Inquiry’s five-week public examination into the Rock’s inner workings draws to a close

THE Government of Gibraltar is facing calls to create new legislation to manage conflicts of interests in the tiny jurisdiction.

A Conflicts of Interest Act was one of the recommendations made by former Commissioner of Police Ian McGrail’s legal team in their closing submissions to the McGrail Inquiry.

The inquiry, which has been investigating the circumstances surrounding McGrail’s early retirement in 2020, has been bedevilled by allegations of impropriety and conflicts of interest between some of the Rock’s key powerbrokers.

On the last day of the public hearings, Adam Wagner, acting for McGrail, painted a picture of how a myriad of public officials, lawyers and powerful business people – including the Chief Minister, Attorney General and acting Governor – conspired behind the scenes to force McGrail’s retirement. 

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Explosive allegations against gaming firm Mansion shake Gibraltar and raise questions about business links with former finance minister

Gibraltar is facing calls for a Conflicts of Interest act

Wagner laid out McGrail’s case of how a confluence of loyalties to his old partners at law firm Hassans prompted Fabian Picardo to interfere in a live police investigation into Gibraltar’s NSCIS border security platform.

Sir Peter Caruana, acting for the Government, dismissed this account and reiterated to the chair, Sir Peter Openshaw, that McGrail took early retirement because he knew he had lost the confidence of the Chief Minister and the acting Governor Nick Pyle.

In light of these conflicting accounts, McGrail’s team have proposed a clear framework for ‘identifying, managing, and mitigating conflicts of interest among public officials’.

Its purpose would be to ‘minimise the possibility of conflicts arising between the private interests and public duties of public office holders and provide for the resolution of those conflicts in the public interest should they arise.’

Based on Canada’s 2006 Conflict of Interest Act, it would require public officials to disclose all their personal and financial interests – including those of family members.

Barrister Adam Wagner representing Ian McGrail

It would also limit public officials’ employment and lobbying activities for a certain period after leaving office in order to put a stop to the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon.

An independent Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner would be tasked with ensuring Gibraltar’s movers and shakers comply with the new rules, conducting investigations and applying penalties where necessary.

The proposed rules would be pertinent to a number of other public officials who were caught up in the police investigation into the transfer of the contract for the NSCIS system from Blands to a company called 36 North.

They would include Caine Sanchez, the secretary to the Deputy Chief Minister, and Aaron Chipol, the CEO of Gibraltar’s Borders and Coast Guard, among others.

There has been further controversy with the appointment of a Hassans partner to head up the influential Gibraltar Police Authority (GPA), which played a key role in forcing McGrail’s retirement.

Peter Montegriffo KC replaces Dr Joey Britto, who permitted Picardo to draft the letter from the nominally independent GPA to McGrail which effectively forced him out.

The opposition Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) attacked the appointment, asking: “Has [Picardo] learnt no lessons from the facts underlying the McGrail Inquiry?”

GSD leader Keith Azopardi added: “We think it is obviously wrong in terms of good governance for the incumbent Chief Minister to propose or support the appointment of someone from his law firm to chair the Police Authority.”

However, it was pointed out that the GPA was represented in the inquiry by James Neish KC, a partner in the law firm TSN.

As if to further underline the conflicts that habitually afflict Gibraltar and its all-powerful complement of law firms, Azopardi is a partner in TSN. 

Despite this, Caruana, representing the government, was quick to pour cold water on the recommendation of a conflicts of interest act, telling Openshaw it was ‘unrealistic’.

“It appears to invite you to stray into matters which are well outside the scope of the inquiry’s terms of reference,” he said. 

“The government will give careful consideration to recommendations you include in your report and in respect of those recommendations that the government may accept, it will take appropriate action as the case may be.”

In his closing remarks, Openshaw said he had already come to some ‘provisional conclusions’ based on hearing five weeks of arguments. 

He added that he hopes to have a provisional draft by early autumn, but that it would be ‘unwise’ to estimate when the final draft would be ready.

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? walter@theolivepress.es

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