Three Italian nationals challenge Maltese authorities over frozen assets despite legal clearance

Three Italian nationals are challenging the Maltese authorities for failing to revoke a freezing order against them after an Italian superior court cleared them of guilt

Lawyers for three Italian nationals say the Maltese authorities have failed to revoke a freezing order issued against them at the request of the Italian authorities in 2021, despite a superior court in Italy clearing them of guilt.

This emerges from a constitutional application filed today on behalf of Vincenzo Cocozza, Simona de Giovanni, Umberto Cocozza and their companies Assiservice Properties Ltd and Assiservice Ltd.

All assets belonging to the plaintiffs have been frozen since October 2021, in terms of a freezing order which had been issued on the basis of a request from Italy, due to investigations into money laundering offences which had been ongoing at the time.

Fast forward to May 2022, when the Italian supreme court, the Corte di Cassazzione, had upheld their appeal to a decision by a tribunal in Naples, and declared that no money laundering offences had been committed by the men or their companies.

However, in spite of this decision, the freezing and investigation order issued by the Maltese Attorney General remains in effect, say the lawyers, who argue that as a result of the freezing order over his and his wife’s assets, Vincenzo Cocozza is unable to pay for medical treatment he requires for serious health problems “ needlessly, thanks to the unfettered discretion enjoyed by the Maltese AG”.

They add that Italian lawyers for the plaintiff had travelled to Malta last February in order to meet with the FCID inspector who is handling the case and to provide him with any information which he might require. “But it was all for nothing,” reads the application, which also points out that the men had also filed a judicial protest against the Maltese authorities in September, but that it remains unanswered.

The plaintiffs had resided in Malta since 2014, were tax domiciled here and owned a furniture company reads the application, in which the men also offered to testify, together with their Italian lawyers. But as the Prevention of Money Laundering Act does not allow any other court to review freezing orders issued under it, the Criminal Court had to decline their request to do so.

They called upon the court to declare that the absence of a legal remedy through which they can challenge or amend freezing orders issued under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act constituted a breach of the fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution and the European Convention. Material and moral damages were requested.

Lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta signed the application.