Four charged with laundering drug money through sports betting

Four charged with laundering some €21,000 of drug money through sports betting

File Photo
File Photo

Four men have been remanded in custody on charges of laundering some €21,000 of drug money through sports betting.

Brothers Charleston and Redent Cassar were charged together with Jerome Azzopardi and Josef Majri with laundering the proceeds of drug deals by placing bets on sporting events.

Inspector Robert Azzopardi told the court that the men’s arrest came after a confidential tip off the police had received earlier this year. The police had looked into the allegations of laundering at four gaming parlours belonging to Izibet in the South of Malta.

During the hotly contested sitting, before magistrate Lara Lanfranco, lawyer Franco Debono asked what the facts leading to the suspicion were.

The inspector said that when asked to justify their income, they refused and there was a big discrepancy between the men’s lifestyle and their declared income.

Lawyer Roberto Montalto asked why they were charged with money laundering and what period of time the charges related to. The transactions took place in June 2020, said the inspector.

“So why not arraign by summons?” asked the defence.

“The investigations are still underway,” replied the inspector, adding that there was difficulty in finding one of the accused. Debono retorted that the man was at his girlfriend’s house.

The source of funds was primarily the trafficking of drugs, said the inspector. When asked to justify funds, three of the accused were silent, said the inspector. “They exercised their rights” quipped Montalto.

Jerome Azzopardi told the police that the money he played had belonged to a third party. He placed a bet on behalf of a 3rd party, but did not indicate who the funds belonged to, said the prosecutor.

The court heard the lawyers for all four accused object to the validity of the arrest. The magistrate said she was of the opinion it was justified and declared the arrests to be valid.

Charleston Cassar, answered only to confirm his name, refusing to answer any of the other questions put to him by the court. A not guilty plea was entered by his lawyer. Redent Cassar did the same.

Self-employed Jerome Azzopardi, 24, of Cospicua pleaded not guilty. Josef Majri, 24, from Tarxien, didn’t reply when asked what his job was, he, too, pleaded not guilty.

Bail was requested and objected to by the prosecution.

“Here we have charges dating back over a year,” argued lawyer Franco Debono.

“With all due respect, we have a worrying situation were the police give you police bail and then they come before the court and object to bail.” There were no civilian witnesses, added the lawyer. “Because he’s now got the status of accused…so now he’s going to do all the things he’s prohibited from doing and didn’t do for a year?” asked the lawyer.

Right now, Malta was “going through a phase of money laundering charges”, said the lawyer.

Lawyer Roberto Montalto added that with regards to his client, Jerome Azzopardi, a clean criminal record applied and he was only accused of the first charge. “The acts which could lead to a breach of bail happened in June 2020, two and a half months before the bail decree.  We are talking about my client placing a bet in a betting parlour,” said the lawyer.

“The prosecution is forgetting the strong odds that you lose everything in betting. There appears to be none of the fears which justify the denial of bail,” said the lawyer.

For his part, lawyer Arthur Azzopardi pointed out that Jobs Plus, Social Security and Income Tax departments had been contacted and had issued documents. “These are public entities which do not require witness evidence. The evidence is already presented. What remains is the documents from the gaming parlour about when the games were played. We don’t even need it, as the MGA already has this data. Another public authority. They cannot tamper with this evidence. Same with CCTV. Nothing can be tampered with.”

“Redent was never charged with breach of bail, argued the lawyer. What, according to the Criminal Code is there against him being granted bail? Laundering €20,000 between 4 people? If the Maltese people read this, they will flee faster than the public in Afghanistan as if you are jailed for this amount.”

Lawyer Karl Muscat for the Office of the Attorney General said that all four accused are charged with drug trafficking and have a freezing order against them. “So, what does Jerome Azzopardi do? He works, bypassing the court’s decree freezing his accounts and laundering the money by getting a third party to receive the money for him. “

Charleston and Redent didn’t sign their bail books, magistrate Lara Lanfranco was told.

When his client was accused of breaching his curfew, Debono loudly protested that just because he had a curfew didn’t mean he never left home. The police had gone at the wrong time, argued the lawyer.

“We are raising these arguments to show that the prosecution are really clutching at straws – are there bail conditions that he cannot sleep at his girlfriend’s house before his curfew?” Debono shouted

Azzopardi also raised his voice, exasperatedly at the prosecution, demanding that they “read the [Criminal] code”. “Cassar went to Turkey for an operation and had gone with the blessing of the Criminal Court. To Turkey, where we don’t even have an extradition treaty with Turkey and it’s not in the EU.”

AG lawyer Karl Muscat submitted that the accused had also breached a suspended sentence.

The bail submissions became more heated as time passed. If you are alleging something you need to prove it, was Debono’s last word.

Despite the submissions, the magistrate denied bail to the accused.

A freezing order was issued over all their assets, as happens in all money laundering cases.

Lawyers Roberto Montalto for Jerome Azzopardi, Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb for Josef Majri, Arthur Azzopardi for the Cassar brothers.

Inspectors Tomjoe Farrugia and Robert Azzopardi prosecuted.

Lawyers Karl Muscat and Andrea Zammit appeared for the Attorney General.