Operation Delhi was ‘fundamentally flawed’, Levy tells McGrail Inquiry

Hassans senior partner James Levy, KC, described on Wednesday his shock at being treated by police as a suspect in Operation Delhi, an investigation which he said was “fundamentally flawed”.

Mr Levy was giving evidence to the McGrail Inquiry and was quizzed for five hours on his involvement with 36 North, the company at the centre of 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.

Hassans indirectly held a stake in 36 North and Mr McGrail’s lawyers have alleged that both Mr Levy and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, as partners of Hassans, the latter on sabbatical, stood to gain financially from the alleged fraud.

Mr Levy said 36 North had hoped to obtain the contract for the maintenance of the NSCIS and later expand into Africa, and that Hassans had invested in the company primarily because of the international element of its business plan.

“I was more interested in the international part than the local part,” he told the Inquiry, adding that the law firm “invests in people” and that its role was solely in financing – it provided a facility of over one million pounds - and as a shareholder.

Asked if the Chief Minister had played any role in setting up 36 North, he replied: “No.”

Mr Levy said initially that Bland had explored taking a stake in 36 North and had seemed happy for two of its employees – Thomas Cornelio and John Perez - to branch off, and that a transition period had been envisaged.

But the plan for a “joint venture” did not materialise and police began investigating allegations of sabotage and fraud following a complaint from Bland chairman James Gaggero to former police Commissioner Ian McGrail in September 2018.

The investigation ultimately led to Mr Cornelio, Mr Perez and Caine Sanchez, a civil servant who oversaw the system, being arrested and charged.

But the prosecution case against them was discontinued in January 2022 by Attorney General Michael Llamas, KC, on public interest grounds that were never openly explained.

The Inquiry has heard that by December 2018, after an approach from Mr Gaggero, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo had decided the contract should remain with Bland.

Mr Levy said he believed the contract “should have” been put to tender “and should still be”.

But “it’s a matter for the Government, not for me,” he added.


Much of the questioning on Wednesday focused on potential conflicts of interest that arose as a result of Hassans’ involvement with 36 North and Mr Levy’s close personal relationship with the Chief Minister, and how these had been handled.

Julian Santos, counsel for the Inquiry, asked Mr Levy whether he had ever considered that he might be benefitting from his relationship to the Chief Minister and gaining access that others might not have.

“In this case, somebody else had more access than I had, clearly,” he replied.

“Who? When you say somebody else, who are you referring to?” Mr Santos asked.

“Well, Mr Gaggero obviously had more access than I did,” Mr Levy replied.

“Did you ever consider that you might be benefitting from access that ordinary people, unlike Mr Gaggero, would not receive?” Mr Santos asked.

“Well, in this situation, it was Mr Gaggero and us. There were no other ordinary people involved.”

In any event, Mr Levy said that based on his experience – he was the nephew of Sir Joshua Hassan and his firm had done work for Sir Joe Bossano and Sir Peter Caruana during their time as Chief Ministers – people across society in Gibraltar had always had access to Chief Ministers.

“Chief ministers get a lot of approach from ordinary people and they deal with it,” he said.

He was pressed too as to whether he might have received information from the Chief Minister which ordinary people would not receive.

He said he had years of experience “to know what the red lines are”.

“What do you consider the red lines to be?” Mr Santos asked.

“Well, to be careful not to ask for any information which is not publicly available,” Mr Levy replied.


A similar line of questioning was pursued by Patrick Gibbs, KC, the lawyer for retired police Superintendent Paul Richardson, who had led Operation Delhi, and by the Inquiry chairman, retired UK judge Sir Peter Openshaw.

The chairman asked whether it would have been a good idea to define “red lines” in relation to the NSCIS contract and 36 North’s aspiration to take it over.

“But I assumed, sir, if the contract was attained,” Mr Levy said.

“But fairly early on, we knew that the contract was not to be given to 36 North.”

Mr Gibbs pressed the point.

“The contract was in the gift of the Government. The Chief Minister was a partner of Hassans and a beneficial owner, to a small extent, but a beneficial owner in 36 North, whose business plan was dependent upon obtaining this contract from the Government,” he said.

“So the Chief Minister was both beneficiary, potentially, and giver of the benefit?”

“Yes,” Mr Levy replied, adding: “And the result was he gave it to somebody else.”

Mr Gibbs asked whether the Chief Minister had taken that step when he found out Mr Levy was a “person of interest” in Operation Delhi, but Mr Levy replied it was “well before that”.

“I would have expected a tender for the whole thing, and then there wouldn't be any awkwardness because the tender is not decided by the Chief Minister, the tender is decided by a tender board,” Mr Levy added.

Mr Gibbs put it to Mr Levy that in taking the decision to give the contract to Bland, the Chief Minister would have had to be “absolutely scrupulous” not to allow his own and Hassans’ “potential advantage” to influence him in any way.

Mr Levy replied that he was, “and gave it to the other side”.

During the course of his answers, Mr Levy on several occasions questioned the manner in which the RGP had approached the investigation, including its decision to class him as a suspect and seek to execute search warrants at his home and offices on May 12, 2020.

Mr McGrail has told the Inquiry that the search warrants triggered an angry response from the Chief Minister that put in motion a sequence of events where police were placed under intense and improper pressure that ultimately forced him to take early retirement.

The allegations are firmly denied by the Government parties.

On Wednesday, Mr Levy left no doubt about his thoughts on Operation Delhi.

“I believed and continue to believe that the investigation was fundamentally flawed,” Mr Levy said.

Asked why by Mr Santos, he replied: “Primarily, because it was led not by the police, it was led by the competitor to 36 North.”

“And I don’t want to say any more because matters are being looked at.”


Mr Levy was questioned too about events after May 12, 2020, in particular about contact with the Chief Minister and the Attorney General in the ensuing days, both directly and through his lawyer, Lewis Baglietto, KC.

The Inquiry heard that Mr Picardo was among the first people Mr Levy had phoned on being told by police that they had a search warrant and wanted to seize his mobile phone, which was eventually handed over voluntarily but was never ultimately inspected by the RGP.

Mr Levy said he rang Mr Picardo “as a friend” and that Mr Picardo expressed “consternation”.

“I didn't ask him to do anything about it at all,” he added.

“I'm quite aware that he couldn't have done anything about it even if he’d wanted.”

And he left no doubt as to the impact of what he described as a “very traumatic” period for him.

“I was in a very bad mental state, I admit it,” he told the Inquiry.

Mr Levy said he had discussed with the Chief Minister “once or twice” prior to May 12 that he was “a person of interest” in the police investigation, adding that given Hassans’ shareholding in 36 North, it was understandable police might want to talk to him.

But he said he “certainly didn’t expect” to be treated as a suspect, describing his “consternation and bewilderment” when officers turned up with a search warrant for his office and home.

“I was always available to talk to the RGP but they seemed to be on another route,” Mr Levy, who was never arrested or charged, told the Inquiry.

“I didn’t think they were going to investigate me as a suspect.”

Mr Levy told the Inquiry he did not see it as inappropriate that Mr Baglietto later also had contact with the Attorney General to discuss information related to Operation Delhi.

“I think that a lawyer is entitled in the circumstances to ask the Attorney General and any other person involved in the prosecution as to the way things are going and making representations,” Mr Levy said.

“I haven't practiced criminal law for a number of years, but I don't see any difficulty. The Attorney General could say, I’ll talk to you or I won't.”

“But I don't see any difficulty.”

“And when I read about the information shared with other people in the investigation who are not lawyers, then I am more reassured in what I'm saying.”


Mr Levy was also asked about WhatsApp exchanges with the Chief Minister which the Inquiry had sought but which he had been unable to recover.

He explained that after his phone was seized by police, he had been given another mobile after his device was copied by Hassans IT specialists in the presence of police.

He said the Hassans IT experts had told him it had not been possible to retrieve the messages.

“This work is done for me,” Mr Levy said.

“I’m not trying to hide any messages.”

He was later quizzed on this again by Patrick Gibbs, KC, the lawyer representing retired police Superintendent Paul Richardson, who led Operation Delhi at the time of the arrest warrants.

Mr Levy told Mr Gibbs the messages could not be retrieved from the original phone, the replacement phone, or a second replacement phone after that.

He said Hassans’ IT experts would provide affidavits to the Inquiry, if required, explaining why this was the case.

But in the face of forensic questioning by Mr Gibbs, Mr Levy was unequivocal about one thing.

“I have not hidden any message or deleted any messages,” he told the Inquiry.


Earlier in the day, former police Commissioner Ian McGrail completed giving his evidence, answering questions from his own lawyer, Adam Wagner.

He underscored evidence given over the previous two days that he believed he and the RGP had been placed under undue and inappropriate pressure by the Chief Minister and the Attorney General to steer Operation Delhi away from Mr Levy after the May 12, 2020, search warrants, and that this had been the catalyst leading to his early retirement.

And he stressed that, prior to that day, he had never been made aware of any complaint about his work as Commissioner, including in relation to the runway incident which has been cited as contributing the to Governor’s loss of confidence in him.

As for the fatal collision at sea in Spanish waters, he again refuted claims that he had withheld information on the location from the then interim Governor, Nick Pyle.

“The bottom line is that I did not have any reason, motive or anything whatsoever to be evasive or to withhold anything from Mr Pyle at all, at all, at all,” Mr McGrail told the Inquiry.

At one point Mr McGrail reflected on the nature of the issues under investigation in Operation Delhi in response to questions from Mr Wagner.

“We are talking about a sabotage of a national security platform that provides security to Gibraltar, which was severely assaulted and compromised, putting at risk the people of Gibraltar and those visiting Gibraltar,” he said.

“You cannot diminish in the slightest of terms the importance of this.”

Mr Wagner indicated he wished to ask Mr McGrail further about the “risk level” to Gibraltar but Sir Peter Openshaw, the Inquiry chairman, intervened and said that even by identifying the subject area, there was a risk of touching on areas that were subject to a restriction notice issued by the Government on national interest grounds.

The chairman said that to explore those areas, the Inquiry would have to go into private session, and Mr Wagner moved on to a different line of questioning.

The Inquiry continues.