Prosecution error means 2020 money laundering case against Tarxien butchers must start again

The error means the couple's case which has been ongoing for two years, has to start again

A widely-criticised money laundering case against a village butcher will have to start afresh after defence lawyers objected to a request aimed at correcting a serious error by the prosecution.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech made the order after it emerged that the police had begun prosecuting the case without the power to do so having been first officially delegated by the AG. The error means the couple's case, which has been ongoing for two years, had to start again.

The case against Anthony and Mary Grace Manicaro, both 60, in which the couple are accused of money laundering and breaching banking laws when they allegedly allowed their poorer customers to pay them directly with their social benefits cheques.

The Tarxien couple had been arraigned in court in September 2020, accused of money laundering as well as operating as an unlicensed financial institution and bank in breach of financial services and banking law. 

They were in court for the Monday sitting, Mary Grace Manicaro pushing her wheelchair-bound husband into the courtroom. 

A lawyer from Office of the Attorney General asked the court for permission to summon prosecuting inspector Oriana Spiteri once again, in order to allow her to file a request for the delegation of prosecutorial powers from the AG to the Police Commissioner.

The prosecutor also requested the defence to consider exempting the prosecution from summonsing all of the previous witnesses who had testified in the proceedings, as well as from re-exhibiting all of the evidence exhibited to date.

But as this was not the first such request, the couple’s defence lawyers, Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb, refused to grant this exemption, prompting the court to order the proceedings to start afresh.

A court-appointed financial expert, who had carried out a forensic audit on the couple’s finances also exhibited his report on Monday, concluding that the income reported in the income tax returns “seems to have come from legitimate activity.”

In his report, the expert observed that it was clear from the couple’s bank activity that a service was being given to third parties by facilitating the use of their bank accounts. Although this kind of service is usually a licensable activity, the court expert was unable to establish whether all of the related income had been appropriately declared by the defendants in their income tax returns. He was also unable to determine whether the third-party cheques – excluding those issued by the Central Bank – had originated from a legitimate source of income.

Neither could it be determined whether the customers had been charged a fee for the use of the accused’s bank accounts, nor the reason why third parties were allowed to make use of the accused’s bank accounts.

The magistrate also ordered that the accused, who suffers from several chronic medical conditions and whose condition appeared to be deteriorating, be medically examined to establish whether he is fit to stand trial.