Court to rule on request to limit freezing order in Onda Blu money laundering case

Lawyer submits that arguments made in the State Advocate’s court application are diametrically opposed to legal doctrines expounded by the Attorney General

The Onda Blu restaurant in Pietà
The Onda Blu restaurant in Pietà

A lawyer defending the directors of a company from money laundering charges has told the First Hall of the Civil Court that the State Advocate, was incorrect to argue the assets affected by a freezing order could not be limited to the alleged earnings from criminal activity.

In a sitting held this morning, Madame Justice Anna Felice heard arguments by lawyer Stefano Filletti, appearing on behalf of Keith Testa, 29, and accountant Carlos Dimech, 27. The men were charged with money laundering last June in their personal capacity and as directors of Pietà Marina Caterers Ltd – the company which operates the restaurant Onda Blu in Pietà.

The case was also connected to that of suspected fuel smuggler Darren Debono.

Filletti submitted that arguments made in the State Advocate’s court application were diametrically opposed to legal doctrines expounded by the Attorney General.

The AG had always argued the Criminal Court was not empowered by law to lift a freezing, whilst the State Advocate was arguing that it could, said the lawyer, adding that likewise, whilst the AG had always argued that a court could not deny prosecutorial requests for a freezing order, the State Advocate was claiming that it was possible.

Filletti told the judge that in this case, the Attorney General was correct, “even if this was not just.” Besides property, a freezing order covered everything the subject owned, he said, ranging from cash, mobile phones, laptops as well as personal items.

The lawyer argued the State Advocate had “seemingly still not grasped” the frustrations of the Criminal Court regarding such orders.

“What we are asking is not the removal of the freezing order, but that with regards to items which are not connected to the alleged crime, the accused should have the right to ask the court to see whether the order should cover all or part of the assets.”

Bringing inheritance as an example, Filletti asked why inherited property should also be frozen as a result of the order.

“As a pensioner, why should your pension also be frozen, when that is related to work you would have carried out throughout your working life?"

Filletti told the court that in practice there were also problems with banks releasing the yearly allowance of €13,000 per year, stipulated in the law, from the frozen accounts.

The lawyer asked how a businessman struck by such an order was supposed to pay tax on the preceding year, VAT, insurances, school fees and bank loans. These were causing big problems, he said, arguing that therefore it was not true that the freezing order was proportionate.  

The court will rule on the issue in the next sitting.

Lawyer Maurizio Cordina is appearing for the Office of the Attorney General. Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Nicole Galea represented Testa and Dimech.