Couple sentenced for running massage parlour brothels

Court orders further investigations into the sources of wealth of the accused

A court has ordered further investigations after jailing a 40-year-old Ħamrun man and handing his 26-year-old wife a suspended sentence on charges relating to money laundering and running brothels disguised as massage parlours.

Johan Sultana was jailed for three years on charges which included living off the earnings of prostitution, allowing his property to be used as a brothel and heroin possession. Pawlina Cutajar was convicted of running a brothel, breaching a suspended sentence and recidivism.

Over a number of sittings, the court, presided by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, had heard evidence showing that the couple had been running two brothels, one in Fgura and another in Mosta, and laundering the proceeds. 

Drugs Squad Inspector Jonathan Cassar and Vice Squad inspector Roxanne Tabone had told the court how, in January 2019, Johan Sultana had been stopped by a police officer whilst driving his Mercedes. Just over half a gram of heroin was found in the car’s centre console, together with gloves, a balaclava mask and a hammer.

Sultana had told the police that he was addicted to heroin, and provided the unlikely explanation that he would use the balaclava and gloves when riding his motorcycle and that he kept the hammer in his car just in case he had an accident and needed to break his windows.

He also claimed that he would use a weighing scale that was found in his car to weigh gold, despite not having any ties to related industries and living on benefits.

€1460 in cash were found on Sultana’s person, together with a further €3,600 at his residence and another €2,480 found in a purse which he told the police belonged to Pawlina Cutajar. Sultana claimed the cash found at his residence was intended to pay an insurance premium.

The court was also told that messages concerning a “massage parlour” which was used for sexual encounters were discovered on his mobile phone, as well as a Facebook profile in his wife’s name containing a large number of messages with third parties about sexual services.

The Vice Squad had sent officers to stake out the massage parlours and had noticed several people coming and going, as well as Cutajar handing over to another girl.

One massage parlour client had told the police that he had paid Cutajar €50 for specific sexual services. Further interviews with a number of men had strengthened the police’s suspicions that the massage parlour was a front for a brothel 

This was corroborated by messages and photos sent in Facebook and WhatsApp chats.

During his interrogation, Sultana denied knowing about the brothel, but admitted to sending a number of messages about sales of gold items, using the same social media profile.

The investigation led the police to identify the owner of the massage parlour, a certain Josianne Brincat, who told investigators that she had sold the premises to a couple from Hamrun, who were later identified as the accused, for €23,000 in cash.

Cutajar had exercised her right to silence during her interrogation. The massage parlour’s keys were found in her possession, together with a VAT receipt book in the Fgura premises, which related to another massage parlour in Mosta. Only two receipts had been issued.

The prosecuting inspector explained that the accused had also been charged with money laundering because although the property sale had been paid for in cash, the contract stated that it had been a donation. Cutajar had also failed to explain the provenance of the cash found in her possession, although an inheritance had been mentioned.

The court also noted that it had not been provided with an explanation for Sultana’s lavish lifestyle, affording property investments, and purchases of gold and drugs. His explanation that his mother or her partner had financed his drug habit did not wash with the court.

“The court reasons that when the transaction relating to the sale of the premises was fraudulently concealed as a donation, the intention had been to avoid Sultana and possibly also the notary himself, from having to fulfil their legal obligation to explain the provenance of the funds used to purchase the Fgura property, as part of due diligence checks required by anti-money laundering laws.

The magistrate ordered a copy of the judgement be served on the Director General for Social Services in view of the fact that during the hearing of the case it had emerged that Sultana had been receiving social benefits.

The court also ordered that the Tax Commissioner be notified about the decision, in order to investigate discrepancies in capital gains tax due on the transfer of the premises.

The Commissioner of Police was also ordered to investigate the owner of the premises, Josianne Brincat and to establish whether there were sufficient grounds to charge her and Notary Joseph Tabone with criminal offences in view of the fact that the premises had been paid for in cash, although the contract stated that it had been donated, and the fact that Cutajar had not explained the provenance of the cash discovered on the property.