Fraudster’s jail term reduced to three years from five on appeal

Fraudster Josef Grech has jail term reduced to three years after appeals court takes into consideration that he paid back the money obtained illicitly after duping an illiterate man into signing a tampered cheque

Josef Grech, a vanity publisher of various Mintoff-related books has his jail-term reduced to three years over a case in which he duped an illiterate man into signing a tampered cheque
Josef Grech, a vanity publisher of various Mintoff-related books has his jail-term reduced to three years over a case in which he duped an illiterate man into signing a tampered cheque

The criminal appeals court has reduced a jail term for a fraudster who duped an illiterate man into signing a tampered cheque because he repaid the sum due.

Josef Grech from Rabat had sold two cars to a certain Victor Muscat. Muscat had paid by means of three cheques, but as he did not know how to read or write well, the man had simply written the figures and left the writing to Grech.

A cheque for €125 was thus converted to €12,500 before being cashed and two other cheques for €600 were tampered with to read €16,000. Grech had cashed the cheques, but had denied tampering with them.

Grech has a history of fraud accusations, and after the death of Dom Mintoff, rode on the late premier’s legacy by setting up a vanity publishing house to print various books on Mintoff.

A court-appointed calligraphy expert had revealed that the writing on the cheques, as well as the additional figures, belonged to Doreen Farrugia Grech, Grech’s wife.

Farrugia Grech opted not to testify after being warned by the court that she could face criminal proceedings – as in fact happened. 

Josef Grech was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison in 2019.

In his decision on the appeal, Grech’s lawyer had told Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti that the man deserved a lighter sentence on account of his attempts to rebuild his life after several “judicial mishaps”.

The court, however, observed that the man had brought no evidence to show that he had turned over a new leaf, or had even tried to. This ground for appeal was rejected.

Grech declared that he had repaid the money he had fraudulently obtained, after the courts granted him several adjournments to do so.

In a sitting on 1 July, one of Victor Muscat’s heirs – Muscat having passed away during the case – declared that the amount had been paid in full.

Also taken into consideration was a declaration by Doreen Farrugia Grech, to the effect that she had done everything by herself and had admitted to this in criminal proceedings against her over the same charges.

Farrugia Grech had been present when the sale of the vehicles took place and had written the cheques and the cheque book stubs. However, the court said it was convinced of Grech’s knowledge of this, pointing out that he had not stopped the cashier from handing him the “phenomenal” amounts of cash when he was supposed to only take €600 twice and €125 once.

The Attorney General had argued that the accused ought to have been found guilty of the more serious offence of obtaining money by false pretences and not “other fraudulent gain”, in view of the fact that the accused was fully conscious of the fact that the victim didn’t know how to read or write as he had sold him another car in the past and had gone out of his way to trick him on this occasion.

The judge, however, dismissed this ground of appeal, saying that the court of first instance had made a very good analysis of the elements of this crime, strengthened by jurisprudence.

But the court also observed that Doreen Farrugia Grech had admitted to the same charges as her husband and had repaid the money she had taken.

“This court is going to consider the payment of the amount defrauded only as motivation – and this as an exception – for the tempering of punishment in line with practises adopted by the court in similar cases.” The fact that Farrugia Grech had admitted responsibility for all this is of no aid to the appellant, said the judge.

“This declaration does not change the conclusion reached by the first court and confirmed at this stage of revision that the accused is guilty of the crimes as an accomplice, also because the accused did not request that this is admitted as new evidence, if this could even ever happen in view of the fact that the person was sentenced in 2019 and took the state of wife of the appellant and was summoned to testify precisely on 19 July 2021 before this court.”

What would be taken from this is that the appellant had repaid the debt created by his criminal action and that this merited a lesser sentence, said the judge.

Having taken all the factors into consideration, the court declared Grech not guilty of forgery but convicted him of complicity in the falsification of the cheques.

His sentence was amended to three years’ imprisonment.

The rest of the judgment was also confirmed.