‘Jurisdictional risk’ at forefront of CM’s reaction to Op Delhi search warrants, Inquiry told

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said his overriding concern on learning that police had sought to execute a search warrant in the office and home of his friend and mentor, senior Hassans partner James Levy, KC, was the potential “jurisdictional risk” arising from a police action on such a high profile Gibraltar lawyer.

In evidence to the McGrail Inquiry, Mr Picardo said he believed the Royal Gibraltar Police should have adopted a less intrusive mechanism known as a production order, describing as “flimsy” the police’s justification for the warrant even though it had been granted by the Stipendiary Magistrate.

“Seeking to obtain evidence from James Levy could have happened in a way that was less intrusive and did not expose the jurisdiction to reputational risk in the way that this did,” Mr Picardo said.

The Chief Minister was responding to questions from Julian Santos, counsel to the Inquiry, about events triggered by the attempt to execute the warrants on May 12, 2020, and in the lead-up to that date.

The warrants related to Operation Delhi, an investigation into the alleged “hacking and sabotage” of the National Security Centralised Intelligence System [NSCIS], and into an alleged conspiracy to defraud Bland, the private company that operates the system.

The Inquiry had previously heard that Hassans held a stake in 36 North, the company at the heart of the police investigation, and Mr McGrail’s lawyers have alleged that both Mr Levy and Mr Picardo, as partners of Hassans, the latter on sabbatical, stood to gain financially from the alleged fraud.

At the time of the search warrants Mr Levy was a suspect in the investigation, though Mr Picardo said he was not aware of this on May 12. Mr Levy was never arrested or charged.

On Monday, Mr Picardo acknowledged using “robust” language during a meeting that day in which he expressed his anger about the warrants to former police Commissioner Ian McGrail in the presence of Attorney General Michael Llamas, KC.

Mr Picardo claims that in the meeting, Mr McGrail told him and the Attorney General that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christian Rocca, KC, had advised police to pursue the search warrant.

Mr McGrail denies saying this but for the Chief Minister, who insists it happened, this was a turning point.

When it was subsequently established that the DPP had not advised the RGP either for or against the use of a search warrant, Mr Picardo was clear in his mind that he had been lied to, the Inquiry heard.

Mr Picardo said he remembered “distinctly” what Mr McGrail said that day and that “it shook my world”.

“The only relevance to me of this is simple: that I was told by the Commissioner of Police that he had acted with the advice of the DPP to go for a search warrant, and, in fact, that turned out not to be true,” Mr Picardo said.

“I was lied to by the most senior law enforcement official in Gibraltar to my face, in my office, about something that affected the reputation of the jurisdiction.”

Mr Picardo said the relationship between a Commissioner and a Chief Minister had to be one of “utmost good faith, of complete openness, transparency and honesty”.

“And Ian McGrail, on that day, failed that test and there was no way back,” he added.


Mr Picardo was quizzed by Mr Santos on numerous contacts he had with Mr Levy and his lawyer in the ensuing days after May 12, and whether he thought it was appropriate for a Chief Minister to be in contact with the suspect in a live criminal investigation, particularly given his close relationship and his personal, albeit minor, interest in 36 North through his partnership in Hassans.

Repeatedly, Mr Picardo said he saw nothing inappropriate in those contacts and that his response would have been the same had it been any other prominent member of the legal community.

The Chief Minister insisted his overriding interest was reputational risk to Gibraltar, referring also to criticism in an audit by UK police inspectors about how the RGP had handled electronic devices seized in prior operations.

Mr Levy, he said, played a key role in attracting global business to the Rock and his mobile phone, which had been seized by police, would contain legally privileged information about multiple international clients who might be concerned their information was not being properly protected.

That did not mean Mr Levy was excluded from the possibility of a search warrant, but trawling through a phone would be like “looking for a needle in a haystack”.

A production order would have obliged Mr Levy, as an officer of the court and a senior lawyer, to hand over whatever information police needed, the Inquiry was told.

“We all know that production orders are designed to protect the privilege of those who have relationships with the individual who has information that is going to be disclosed,” the Chief Minister said.

“And so those who are protected are not Mr Levy but his clients, and that is what you need to have particular regard to.”

Mr Picardo said he had “shared widely” his views on the warrants and information that the DPP had not advised the RGP to pursue that avenue, and that this was not just limited to Mr Levy and his lawyers.

“I probably told everyone who talked to me about this warrant,” he said.

“This warrant was vox populi at the time in Gibraltar, everyone was talking about it, and I was saying how disgraceful I thought it was and how much of an abuse I thought it was, and how it was not something that the Director of Public Prosecutions had advised on.”

“I shared that view widely.”

Mr Santos put it to Mr Picardo that that information was “quite sensitive” but the Chief Minister said it had not been shared with him on confidential terms.

“The information went to the core of my ability to have confidence in the RGP and I felt able to share that information without having to have regard to any privilege or confidentiality that had been expressly stated to me, or impliedly somehow put upon me.”

“I'm a politician. I'm a member of the Executive. I have rights, duties and obligations,” Mr Picardo later added.

“None of those, as far as I can see, is an obligation to keep confidential information in relation to a prosecution if that information has not been shared with me in a way that is expressly requiring me to keep it confidential, or there is another implied duty that you point me to that suggests that it should be confidential.”

Mr Santos put it to Mr Picardo that sharing the information with Hassans would have naturally encouraged the firm to bring a judicial review against the search warrant and expose the Government to more expenditure.

The Chief Minister said that was not the purpose of why he had shared the information but that there are “some tensions that you simply cannot get away from”.

“The reality is that this information was shared with me in relation to the core issue of the credibility of Mr McGrail with me, but it had other consequences too, because I shared it in the context of Mr McGrail’s credibility with me, and it had those other consequences,” Mr Picardo said.

Mr Picardo said he had been unaware that Mr Levy was a suspect on May 12 and that no information was shared with him to show why the RGP felt a warrant was necessary, or why the Stipendiary Magistrate had granted it.

But the Chief Minister said that on the basis of what had emerged in the Inquiry, “I think they were relying on the flimsiest, flimsy pretences”.

“Nobody is off limits,” Mr Picardo said.

“Gibraltar is governed by the rule of law entirely, so we are all subject to the law. No one is above the law.”

“But there are some circumstances when going about the enforcement of the law, I think, requires more guile and temperament than was shown in this case by the Royal Gibraltar Police.”


Earlier in the session, Mr Picardo was asked about events relating to the NSCIS prior to May 12, 2020, including potential conflicts of interest given his stake through Hassans in 36 North.

Mr Picardo said initially Bland had supported the migration of the NSCIS contract to 36 North, a step that would have made sense for the Government because it would have clarified the issue of ownership of the platform – Bland felt it owned the platform, while 36 North accepted it belonged to the Government - and would have been cheaper for the public purse.

The Chief Minister said that at the time he was not being asked to take any decision that would put him in a “conflict position”.

“I didn't think that there was a need for me to recuse myself from an agreed process between two parties simply because I had a tangential minor financial investment in one of them because…it did not call for a decision on my part,” the Chief Minister said.

By late 2018 however, after Mr Gaggero raised with Mr Picardo his concerns about the potential sabotage of the security system, the Chief Minister’s position changed.

“I heard what Mr Gaggero said to me and I said, right, that's it, I'm not taking a risk with this at all, this contract stays with Bland, it's not going to 36 North,” Mr Picardo said.

And he added: “I believe that I managed all of the issues that related to conflict by making the decision…that the contract should stay with Bland and not go to the entity in which I tangentially had a financial interest in, thereby demonstrating that I acted selflessly and with integrity in the best interest of Gibraltar and its people and not in my self interest in any way.”

Repeatedly during his evidence on events after May 12, 2020, Mr Picardo insisted that any suggestion of improper behaviour because of his personal interest in 36 North had been addressed months earlier by his decision in October, 2018, that the contract should remain with Bland.

Mr Picardo said that in the months preceding the May 12, 2020, search warrants, Mr Levy had spoken to him on a number of occasions to express his frustration at the way the police investigation was being handled, “…which made it feel to him that it was a crime to compete against Bland Limited and Mr Gaggero, and I think he might have expressed it in that way on a number of occasions.”

“I could sense how incensed he was about the fact that this investigation was taking the course that it was taking from where he could see, and the way that he was being dragged into a criminal matter when he felt he had simply made a commercial investment as an angel investor,” Mr Picardo said.

Mr Santos asked the Chief Minister whether he felt it was appropriate to communicate with Mr Levy about him being “a person of interest” in the police investigation at a time in which the Government was liaising with the RGP and was also a potential complainant in the case.

“You made the point repeatedly, and I do not challenge it, that the RGP is completely independent of the Government,” Mr Picardo replied.

“So the RGP can be investigating whatever it wants to investigate, and the Government can be talking about that self-same issue with parties to that investigation, either in the knowledge, because the knowledge has been provided without detail, that that investigation is ongoing, or without knowledge that the investigation is ongoing.”

Mr Picardo said he did not believe there was “a ring of privilege or confidentiality” that prevented the Government, as a potential victim of alleged hacking and sabotage offences, from talking to third parties, adding Mr Levy was not the only person he spoke to about this.

“Did you not think it might have been prudent to impose boundaries to avoid conflicts between your role as Chief Minister, your role as leading the Government that was making the complaint, and your personal and financial relationship with Mr Levy?” Mr Santos asked.

“Yes, and I think I did in the way that I dealt with him on certain occasions, and the way that I pushed back on certain occasions and, indeed, in the way that I acted when I made the decision that the contract should stay with Bland,” Mr Picardo replied.

Mr Santos pressed Mr Picardo again: “And do you think that you maintained compliance with the Ministerial Code in all your dealings with Mr Levy, 36 North and Mr McGrail in relation to the investigation?

“At every stage,” the Chief Minister replied.

“But these concepts are subjective and therefore I'm always open to guidance and learning on these issues.”

“Even in the United Kingdom, the code is live, and you have to always address how you've acted and second guess yourself.”

“I don't pretend to be perfect. I genuinely believe that I acted properly.”

“I've defended that from the first moment that suggestions have been made that I didn't act properly.”

“And I fall back finally on what I think is, for me, the denouement of this, which is when I make the decision that the contract should not go to the entity in which I have a minor financial interest, it should stay with Bland Limited.”

“And that, in my view, is why I can discharge the burden of demonstrating that I acted properly and in keeping with the code.”


Early in the session the Chief Minister was asked about the fatal collision on March 8, 2020, in which two Spanish nationals died after their vessel was hit by an RGP patrol boat during a chase in Spanish waters.

The then interim Governor, Nick Pyle, believes Mr McGrail withheld timely information from him on the location of the incident and says this was a key factor in his loss of confidence in the former Commissioner.

Mr McGrail insists he was transparent with the Governor at every stage but that it took some days in a fast-moving situation before the RGP was able to independently confirm the location of the incident.

Mr Picardo said that from early on the morning of March 8, after police received information from the Guardia Civil suggesting the collision happened six nautical miles off Santa Barbara beach in La Linea, he was working on the assumption that it had occurred in Spanish waters.

During his evidence, the Chief Minister said that while he lost confidence in Mr McGrail because he believed he had been lied to on May 12, 2020, this was exacerbated when he learnt from Spanish media on May 14 about a civil claim arising from the fatal collision.

Mr Picardo said the Commissioner should have informed him directly about the claim, which had potential financial repercussions for Gibraltar if it succeeded, and which came against the backdrop of intense treaty negotiations.

The article “came to me like a bolt from the blue” and the different issues began to “come together” in the days after May 12, underlining his concerns about the Commissioner.

“This was another one of the many straws that broke the camel's back in this case,” the Chief Minister said.

Mr Picardo noted too that all of these events were unfolding against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.

“It was a fairly difficult period,” he told the Inquiry.

“The last thing I would expect to have to be doing was to be chasing the Commissioner of Police for information that he had and should be sending me, which I didn't know he had.”


Mr Picardo was asked too about the runway incident in 2017, in which three senior military officers were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice and obstructing police over their handling of a serviceman suspected of being a paedophile.

Mr Picardo said he had been supportive of the RGP’s actions in preventing an RAF plane from leaving Gibraltar but that the subsequent manner of the arrest of the three military officers had been “unnecessarily confrontational” and caused “massive damage” to Gibraltar’s relations with the MoD.

He maintained his support for the RGP in tackling the MoD’s misunderstanding of what jurisdiction it had in Gibraltar, adding he stood by his description at the time of the three officers as “f***ing idiots”.

But that support on the jurisdictional aspect did not include backing the manner of the arrests after the incident on the runway, particularly given the importance of the military base both to the UK and Gibraltar, the Inquiry was told.

“I could sense that the United Kingdom felt that Gibraltar was acting in a manner which was unnecessarily confrontational, that objectives could have been achieved in a different way and that cooler heads should have prevailed,” Mr Picardo said.

“Now, let's not go into politics because this is not what this tribunal is about but one of the key planks of what I do every day is secure British sovereignty over Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom's in my view main and key interest in Gibraltar is as a military base.”

“Of course, it respects the wishes of the people of Gibraltar, of course it would not abandon the people of Gibraltar.”

“But Gibraltar as an asset, as a military asset, is a hugely important plank of how British sovereignty over Gibraltar is secured and maintained and we should not pretend to each other it is not the case.”

“If you undo the United Kingdom's ability to operate its base in a way which is in keeping with what we might all consider to be the reasonable manner of operation, and you have Gibraltar's police, in effect, unnecessarily raiding the Tower, then you have a confrontation which could have been and should have been avoided and was not in the interests of anyone in Gibraltar.”

The Inquiry continues, with Mr Picardo due to complete his evidence on Tuesday.