Insurance fraud: Priest handed ‘stolen’ gold chain under seal of confession

Court overturns insurance fraud conviction after priest was handed item allegedly stolen by third party from man who claimed insurance on theft

An appeals court has overturned a man's conviction for insurance fraud after deciding doubts existed regarding his culpability
An appeals court has overturned a man's conviction for insurance fraud after deciding doubts existed regarding his culpability

The court of criminal appeal has overturned a man’s conviction for insurance fraud.

Anthony McKay had been charged with fraud and criminal damage after filing a police report on 17 May 2010, stating that he had suffered the theft of a gold choker while drunk at the Ta’ Qali football stadium.

The piece of jewellery had been insured with Middlesea, which had refused to pay McKay the sum of €7,400 euro because he had failed to inform them of his criminal record and because it had received information indicating that he might not be telling the truth.

After McKay had protested at the insurance company’s offices, the company had made an ex-gratia payment of €2,000. In the three years after that, the insurance employee who had been in charge of McKay’s case found her car tyres burst as well as scratches on the car and the front door to the claims manager’s block of flats had been set on fire.

Five months after the initial report, McKay had again gone to the police station and alleged that a certain Elsayed El Sisi was threatening to claim that McKay had lied about the choker. The two men used to set up stalls next to each other at the entrance to Valletta, and El Sisi had also been found guilty of fraud in a separate case.

El Sisi had told the police that McKay had said that he had made a false claim about the choker, and that he had also slashed the tyres of a car belonging to an insurance company employee. But the court said that although the circumstances were very suspicious, there was no unequivocal evidence to show that McKay had caused the damage, and noted that the court of Magistrates had also acquitted him of this charge.

The court also heard a priest who had returned the choker which had been entrusted to him under the seal of confession to McKay. The person who had given the priest the choker had taken it from the appellant, a long time after the theft, he had testified. McKay had told the police that the choker had been returned, but had failed to inform the insurance agency which had made the €2,000 payment for it.

The Court of Criminal Appeal noted this extraordinary turn of events in its judgment overturning the man’s conviction.

“It is truly incredible how this choker ended up in the hands of the appellant’s confessor around four months after the appellant had cashed the €2,000 compensation from his insurer.

“But the priest does not only say that this choker was given to him by someone who found it… he adds the detail that it was handed to him by a third party who had taken it from the appellant… If anything it creates doubt as to whether the appellant was telling the truth when he said someone had taken it from him whilst he was in a drunken state,” remarked Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja.

In addition, El Sisi’s testimony had been collected by a lawyer, delegated by the magistrate handling the case. This was precluded at law, said Mr. Justice Bugeja.

The magistrate in the court of first instance had also commented that El Sisi’s testimony had been of dubious credibility. Without that man’s testimony, the circumstantial evidence was no longer unequivocal, observed the court. “But if the court maintained that El Sisi was generically unreliable in what he testified, how could that court attribute weight to what he said in such a way as to create the finding of guilt beyond reasonable doubt?” asked the judge.

The fact that he had at least told the police that he had retrieved the choker, although he had failed to inform his insurer, weighed in his favour, said the court.

On the basis of the evidence, the court said the man’s conviction could not be seen as safe and satisfactory as reasonable doubt existed. McKay’s conviction was overturned and he was declared innocent. Lawyer Kathleen Grima appeared for McKay.

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