Corrupt fisheries official freed from jail with three-year probation order

Man guilty of €32,000 fraud jailed four years, has sentence reduced to three years’ probation on appeal

A four-year prison sentence handed to a former senior official at the Fisheries Department who admitted money laundering and fraud charges, was reduced to three years of probation on appeal.

In 2014, Francis Caruana, now 60, was charged with money laundering, extortion, misappropriation and fraud to the detriment of the Fisheries department, after discrepancies were flagged up during internal audits.

Fisheries officials were entitled to a commission on fees payable to the department upon the release of imported fish. The commission was paid upon the submission of release forms signed in relation to inspections carried out after office hours. 

It was alleged that Caruana had earned nearly €32,000 but failed to declare the funds he had received through his nominal fee entitlement on his annual tax returns.

Caruana had filed an appeal after he was found guilty and jailed last June, being ordered to pay a €63,000 fine, besides the confiscation of all his movable and immovable property under money-laundering laws.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, presiding the appeal, observed that in the interim, Caruana had refunded the €32,000 to the fisheries department. 

His lawyers, Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia had submitted that essentially, 95% of the misappropriated money had been outstanding to Caruana in respect of overtime and his disturbance allowance.

But the court also heard former Fisheries Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia explain that Caruana had simply taken the funds himself instead of applying to his superiors for payment in respect of inspections carried out after office hours.

The accused later filed a guilty plea and refunded the amounts calculated to have been payable to the department, noted the judge.

Having seen all the evidence, as well as a pre-sentencing report drawn up by a probation officer, the court noted that the appellant found a new job and was leading a stable life with the support of his family. 

It was also pointed out that Caruana was a first-time offender and should benefit from this fact.

The court of appeal, sentencing the accused, said that society would “derive no protection” from the man’s incarceration, observing that it would be more beneficial if Caruana were to be assisted by a probation officer in keeping up with his repayments to his victims, also mooting the possibility of community work.

The judge observed that there was no insistence on an effective prison term by the Attorney General at the appeal stage.

For these reasons, the court replaced the man’s effective prison term with a three-year probation period, confirming the €63,000 fine and the confiscation of all the appellant’s property as well as ordering the payment of €10,730 in costs for the appointment of court experts.

More in Court & Police