MaltaToday | 03 August 2008

NEWS | Sunday, 03 August 2008

From human rights abuses to Group 4 – Joe Psaila

The former assistant commissioner indicted on human rights breaches is head of Group 4 security at Mater Dei

Joe Psaila’s insalubrious reputation seems to have done little to stop him from taking on the role of head of security at Group 4. After he was first employed by Skanska to act as their security liaison with Group 4, he was taken on by the private security firm as a director of security following the handover of the hospital to Mater Dei. Joe Psaila was employed by the new Managing Director of Group 4 Kenneth DeMartino.
Psaila was notorious in his role as a police inspector during the 1980s in various human rights breaches. But soon after the election of 1987, the new Nationalist government strangely promoted him to assistant commissioner and director of prisons.
In 1989, Joseph Asciak ‘il-Banana’ filed for damages after being arrested by Psaila.
Asciak had been liberated by a Magistrates Court which declared he had been “an innocent victim of a malign ploy to fabricate evidence to blame him for something he wasn’t guilty of.”
The former prison guard Anthony Mifsud also filed a case against Psaila after being physically beaten up and harassed when he was turned into a scapegoat for the escape of prisoner Louis Bartolo from Corradino prison.
In 1990, during the trial by jury of Martin Gaffarena, a Nationalist activist accused of placing a bomb outside the Safi MLP club in 1986, it was revealed that Psaila had illegally procured Gaffarena’s fingerprints from a glass he had drank from, which later placed on a bomb. Gaffarena spent three years in preventive custody throughout his trial by jury.
During the PN general council, the PN’s executive president Frank Portelli called for the suspension of Psaila from the police force over the frame-up of Martin Gaffarena. Gaffarena later filed for damages against Psaila for having drawn up false accusations and fabricated evidence. He later won Lm34,000 in compensation in 2001.
In 1991, Alternattiva Demokratika called for Psaila’s resignation as the acting director of prisoners, saying Psaila had figured in a series of torture cases and in the case of the former police commissioner Lawrence Pullicino, in which Psaila turned State evidence. Psaila was mentioned as being involved in the beatings of Nardu Debono, who was found dead at Qormi.
Psaila was also accused by AD of having delayed medical treatment for Nigerian prisoner Jeffrey Jelley, who had to have one of his testicles removed due to the delay in treatment. The incident was later investigated in an inquiry launched by then Justice Minister Guido Demarco.
In 1994, Psaila was ordered to pay a TV personality Peppi Azzopardi, then a member of Alternattiva Demokratika, Lm500 in compensation for his illegal arrest back in 1984.
In another case concerning the jury against Eugenio Gaffarena – brother to Martin – a key witness stated that in 1985 he had agreed with Psaila and two police officers to coax Gaffarena into committing a hold-up while the police would let the collaborator escape. Gaffarena was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment.
With accusations mounting against Psaila, AD was joined by columnists like Lou Bondì and Daphne Caruana Galizia, and also the Nationalist youth organ in calling for the resignation of Psaila.
The reaction of then prime minister Eddie Fenech Adami however was muted, famously cautioning against society “calling for its pound of flesh”, despite the numerous human rights abuses suffered by PN activists in the 1980s by the police.

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