Butchers face money laundering charge over social benefits cheques

Butcher couple breached money laundering and banking laws after allowing customers to pay them with social benefits cheques

A shop keeping couple are facing charges of money laundering and breaching banking laws after allegedly allowing their poorer customers to pay them directly with their social benefits cheques.

Anthony and Mary Grace Manicaro, both 58-years-old from Tarxien, were arraigned before magistrate Doreen Clarke this afternoon, accused of operating as an unlicensed financial institution and bank in breach of financial services and banking law and also with committing money laundering. Anthony Manicaro is also accused of recidivism and breaching a probation order.

Upon their arraignment the prosecution requested the freezing of all the couple’s assets, under money laundering legislation. The court acquiesced to this request, freezing all their assets.

The couple’s lawyers requested bail, with the prosecution opposing this request on the basis that the charges were serious and the possibility of tampering with evidence.

In his submissions on bail, lawyer Stefano Filletti stressed that the case was “serious simply because the prosecution wanted to make this case serious” and that the facts had been misconstrued.  He emphasised that his client ran a small butcher’s shop and sold chickens, eggs and rabbits, sometimes affording credit to some of his clients living under poverty the line who could not afford to pay.  The prosecution had failed to put forward any serious probable reason why bail should be opposed, he argued.

Above all the accused who had serious physical disabilities had to take care of a paraplegic son who cannot take care of himself.  “Not granting bail would be an infliction of immense suffering,” argued the lawyer.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, also defence counsel, declared that there were no reasons to deny bail.  There was no instance of criminal activity or money laundering, but simply a case of clients paying with cheques they received for produce sold to them by the accused.  The transactions were clearly recorded in the cheques released and the police had taken possession of all the documents, receipts and forms relating to the butcher shop.  There was therefore no issue of tampering of any evidence, he argued.

The court granted the couple bail against a deposit of €2,000 each and a further personal guarantee of €10,000 each with an obligation to sign a bail book once a week.

Inspectors Oriana Spiteri, Keith Mallan and Danilo Francalanza prosecuted. 

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Stefano Filletti appeared for the accused.