Man cleared of usury after victim's failure to turn up for cross-examination

A man has been cleared of usury due to lack of evidence after crucial testimony was expunged from the proceedings because the victim failed to turn up for cross-examination

A man has been cleared of usury due to lack of evidence after crucial testimony was expunged from the proceedings because the victim failed to turn up for cross-examination.

Gilbert Galea, 29 and his father 58-year-old Anthony Galea of Zurrieq, had been arraigned together on Christmas Eve in 2017, on charges of having allegedly loaned money at excessive rates of interest, threatening their victim and causing him to fear violence, almost driving him to suicide. Both men had denied the charges before their cases were separated and heard individually by Magistrate Joseph Mifsud.

The court had heard how the alleged victim had sought a loan of €10,000 from Gilbert Galea to refurbish his bakery and purchase equipment for the business.

Gilbert Galea had subsequently released a statement recounting how he had asked his father to loan the alleged victim €7,800, entering into private writing with the borrower.

But the repayment demands and interest had piled up, reaching €150,000 and driving the alleged victim to contemplate suicide. The police had been notified after the man had opened up to a friend of his.

In March 2019, Anthony Galea had been cleared due to lack of evidence, because the testimony given by the alleged victim had only mentioned Anthony’s name when referencing the son, observed the court.

In a judgment handed down last week, the same magistrate also cleared the son. The prosecution had principally relied upon the deposition given by the alleged victim, noted the court, saying that the contacts and requests for payment were being made between Galea and the borrower and no one else.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi had asked that the court expunge the testimony of the parte civile in view of the fact that he had failed to appear for cross-examination several times and that this was infringing the rights of the accused. The court noted that between October 2018 and January 2020, the alleged victim had not appeared for any sittings, despite his lawyers’ promises. The court said there was no doubt that the cross-examination is one of the defence’s primary tools to establish whether the witness is saying the truth. This could not be used in this case for reasons directly imputable to the parte civile, who failed to attend or make alternative arrangements and therefore the court said it was constrained to order the man’s testimony to be expunged from the acts of the case.”

“Therefore, in view of the fact that [the borrower’s] testimony is being expunged…the acts of the case do not contain the required level of evidence for the finding of guilt.” The court added that the fact that the victim had a gambling problem also put his claim of incriminating SMSs, where the accused is requesting €150,000 for the €7,500 loan, into doubt. It could not be excluded that messages exchanged could be a mise en scene by the parte civile, said the magistrate.

In addition to this, although the victim’s father had testified to having given his son €78,000 to pay Gilbert Galea, it emerged that he had withdrawn the cash from his bank account in January and February 2015 and the payment had taken place shortly afterwards. The charges, on the other hand, dealt with the period November to December 2017, noted the court, ruling that guilt could therefore not be found in that regard, either.

“As the level of proof required in criminal proceedings was not reached, the court must therefore acquit.”

Inspectors Jeffrey Scicluna and Priscilla Caruana Lee prosecuted.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Alfred Abela were defence counsel.

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