The McGrail inquiry grips Gibraltar and shines a light on the shadowy figures who make the Rock tick – as Chief Minister announces he’s ‘had his fill of this job’

GIBRALTAR’s Chief Minister has announced he will step down after his current term.

Fabian Picardo told a popular podcast things had gotten ‘a little stickier’ and ‘I’ve had my fill of this job’.

His words in The Rest is Politics come as an inquiry gathers steam over the early retirement of Gib’s former police boss, with Picardo’s involvement in its sights.

The McGrail Inquiry has been taking the Rock by storm since it got underway last week.

READ MORE: 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

Ian McGrail (right) and his legal team arrive at the hearing. Copyright: Walter Finch

The hearings have been investigating the circumstances surrounding former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail’s early retirement in June 2020.

Over the course of two weeks, the submissions have tried to get to the bottom of what occurred between Picardo, McGrail, Attorney General Michael Llamas, and its Director of Public Prosecutions, Christian Rocca, in May that year.

But surprisingly, it is ‘the most powerful’ lawyer in Gibraltar, James Levy, and his unsettling nickname ‘the grey man’, that has come into focus.

It was a search warrant on the Hassans’ boss that McGrail’s officers attempted to execute one fateful Tuesday that set the chain of events in motion that would lead to his forced retirement.

The Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) had been investigating an alleged criminal conspiracy to hack and defraud the NSCIS (National Security Centralised Intelligence System), which monitored Gibraltar’s border with Spain.

Known as Operation Delhi, it found a series of high-ranking individuals were implicated in the alleged offence.

These included a senior civil servant, the CEO of Gibraltar’s Borders and Coast Guard, and Levy himself.

But the inquiry heard how the Chief Minister himself may have also had links to the scheme.

READ MORE: Spain and the UK agree ‘general political lines’ on post-Brexit deal over Gibraltar

Former Police Commissioner Ian McGrail gives evidence. Credit: GBC

“I would not classify [Picardo] as a suspect,” McGrail told the hearing. “But he had questions to answer.”

The ex-cop added there had been a conspiracy ‘to stop Operation Delhi’ and its investigations into a company called 36 North Ltd.

Picardo reportedly had ‘full knowledge’ and even gave his ‘considerable support’ to setting the company up, which was created specifically to receive the €840,000 contract to manage the NSCIS.

Levy, 69, had injected £476,000 (€560,000) into the company for a 33% stake, while the Chief Minister owned 3% by virtue of being a partner in Hassans.

The influence of Levy – who police referred to as ‘the grey man’ – was all too apparent in the minutes and hours after their officers attempted to execute the warrant on him on May 12, 2020.

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

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’ 

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

The inquiry heard how a ‘very aggrieved’ Levy called the Attorney General within minutes the detectives had left his offices.

Whatsapp records show Levy told him he felt ‘hung out to dry’. The Attorney General responded: “Don’t worry.”

McGrail described the exchange as ‘unreal’ this week, insisting: “It’s absolutely unheard of, I’ve never come across it in all my career – totally and utterly inappropriate.”

But he added that it ‘made sense’ as Llamas was ‘batting Mr Levy’s corner.”

In a subsequent meeting between McGrail, Llamas and Paul Richardson, the officer leading Operation Delhi, Llamas said they were heading for a ‘major collision’ over the investigation.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo will give evidence at the inquiry

“It’s clear that this is going to get very nasty, very quickly,” he said in a secret recording made by McGrail.

Twenty eight days later, on June 9, McGrail announced his early retirement.

McGrail said it had all been ‘triggered’ by an ‘impromptu meeting with the Chief Minister’, as the search warrant was going ahead, in which he received the ‘dressing down of his career’.

“The catalyst [for my retirement] was the 12th of May,” McGrail told the inquiry.

“Did you consider that it might be because of a combination of factors?” Julian Santos, the Counsel to the McGrail Inquiry, asked the former police commissioner.

“No,” he replied. 

The government’s lawyers, representing Picardo, Llamas and Rocca, have alleged that McGrail lied over whether he sought legal advice from Rocca prior to sending his officers to search Levy.

They allege that this – plus a number of other poorly-handled incidents in McGrail’s tenure as Commissioner – caused them to lose confidence in him.

The inquiry will hear testimony from Llamas, Rocca, Levy, and even Picardo himself, before it concludes in June.

Picardo’s announcement that he would not stand for Chief Minister again, came after he insisted on getting a ‘rebuttal’ on The Rest is Politics podcast.

In it, he told former Tory MP Rory Stewart and ex-Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell that McGrail’s lawyers claimed it was an inquiry ‘into corruption in Gibraltar’.

He insisted: “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

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