Qormi woman, 68, charged with usury

68-year-old woman charged with usury and causing fear of violence granted bail

Family members will have to stump up €5,000 in bail money for a 68-year-old woman from Qormi whose assets were frozen by a court after she was charged with usury and causing fear of violence earlier today.

Inspector Tomjoe Farrugia and Inspector Robert Azzopardi, assisted by prosecutor Gary Cauchi from the Office of the Attorney General, arraigned pensioner Lucy Grima before magistrate Ian Farrugia this morning.

Giving the court a brief background to the case, the inspector said that the police had been investigating the woman since October 2020, after they received confidential information about the accused’s financial activities.

The investigation led the police to cheques which they suspected to be related to illicit money lending activities, the inspector explained. The suspicions were confirmed after two individuals, whose names had come up in the investigation, were questioned by police. A search warrant for Grima’s home was subsequently obtained, the inspector went on, with the police then finding evidence of usury there.

The accused’s bank accounts were also examined, the court heard, with the inspector saying that the most striking thing was the fact that while the cheques were being issued and deposited, the accused’s pension and her husband’s pay were also being deposited in full, indicating to the police that they were not being used. The inspector added, however, that there could be other funds which the investigation had not seen.

The court upheld the prosecution’s request for a freezing order over Grima’s assets as well as a protection order for her victim and the victim’s family.

Lawyer Ezekiel Psaila, appearing for Grima, told the court his client was pleading not guilty and requested bail. The prosecution objected, arguing that there was a fear of the accused tampering with the evidence in the case, or attempt to approach or intimidate the 21 “indispensable” witnesses. “They are people she knows and who live in her hometown,” the inspector explained.

Although Grima had previously been released on police bail during the investigation, the prosecution said that further enquiries had turned up other people who needed to be questioned.

The defence lawyer argued that a balance between the rights of the accused and society at large had to be struck. She had been called in for questioning in December, he pointed out, after which the police had carried out searches in her home. Seven individuals had been spoken to by the police and later on in December, the police had called the accused in for further questioning. She had been also been questioned again in January, pointed out the lawyer.

Psaila quoted case law which had established that the fear of tampering with evidence was not enough for a court to deny bail, especially after police bail had been granted. “Now that all the original documents are in the possession of the police, there is nothing to lose.”

The prosecution, however, underlined that the investigation had discovered that an attempt at contacting a witness had already taken place.

The court, after hearing the two parties’ arguments, expressed its appreciation of the police’s work. The magistrate said he understood the prosecution’s fears but said they could be counterbalanced by conditions he would impose in the bail decree. The court, however did uphold the prosecution’s request for a freezing order to be issued over the accused’s assets.

Turning to the accused, the magistrate sternly warned her that he only gives one chance for bail and if the conditions were breached, she would find herself back in police custody very quickly.

Magistrate Farrugia released the woman from arrest, ordering her to sign a bail book twice a week, and deposit €5000 in court, as well as provide a personal guarantee of €10,000. “The most important condition, and listen well, is don’t you dare try to speak or approach the prosecution witnesses. You know who they are. Don’t try to send someone else either...if this happens, your arrest warrant will be issued immediately,” said the magistrate.