Alberto Chang attempted to pay €8,560 bill with non-cashable cheque, hotel manager tells court

Accused attempted to settle his €8,560 hotel bill with a non-cashable cheque, a court heard on Monday  

Alberto Chang Rajii (centre)
Alberto Chang Rajii (centre)

Alberto Chang Rajii attempted to settle his €8,560 hotel bill with a non-cashable cheque, a court heard as the compilation of evidence against the Chilean continued before magistrate Gabriella Vella earlier today.

At the start of today’s sitting, 50-year-old Chang Rajii was asked to enter a fresh plea in view of an amendment to the charges against him. He reiterated his plea of not guilty and his defence lawyer, Ilona Schembri, exempted the court from having to hear the witnesses who had testified so far, all over again.

First to testify on Monday was a police sergeant from the Community Policing Department, who told the court that on August 3, he had been informed about a fraud report filed against Chang Rajii by a representative of B Hotel for failing to pay for his seven-month stay there.

When asked to settle the €8,560 bill, Chang Rajii had presented a non-cashable cheque for around €1,000 less than the amount due, the sergeant said.

The court also heard the testimony of Jesmond Debono, B-Hotel’s General Manager today.

The witness explained that the defendant had been a guest there, beginning in December 2021 and had extended his stay several times, offering different methods of payment. “Eventually he left the hotel with a pending balance of over eight thousand euros,” Debono told the court.

The initial Booking had been made through online platform Expedia and had been paid for, but Chang Rajii had subsequently extended his stay, and had failed to pay his hotel bill from February to August.

READ ALSO: 'Prohibited migrant' Alberto Chang Rajii used virtual card to make €10,664 in unauthorised purchases

Debono described how the defendant had claimed to be making arrangements for the payment of €957 through a foreign bank account in March, explaining his first non-payment to the witness and his assistant as being the result of delays due to bank formalities.

The hotel had initially given the Chilean the benefit of the doubt, but the doubt kept on mounting, together with his unpaid hotel bills, while Chang Rajii came up with a string of excuses for his card payments being refused, at one point allegedly claiming to have encountered problems with his HSBC account. 

In June 2022, he told Debono that Barclays Bank had authorised a transfer that day. No bank transfer materialised, however. “He left us there till midnight waiting for the transfer,” Debono said.

The hotel management were chasing the defendant for the money, sending reminders on a daily basis, with Chang Rajii staying at the hotel all the while.

Eventually he had handed over a cheque for €7,000 from a JP Morgan account as security for his debt. The hotel didn’t try to cash that cheque, Debono said.

The following month, in July 2022, Chang Rajii gave them details of a BOV account from which he would settle the outstanding amount which by then was over €7,000. When contacted by the hotel, BOV denied such a transaction had been made.

The following day Chang Rajii had claimed that his funds had been transferred from a JP Morgan account in the US to a JP Morgan account in the UK.

Then he proposed that the hotel try to obtain payment through Expedia, but that also turned out to be a dead end. “On 20 July 2022, at almost midnight, he confirmed to us that his card had been upgraded with a €25,000 limit. At that point his bill was €8,200,” the witness said.

The case was adjourned to June, with the magistrate informing the prosecution that the 30-day period for it rule on whether there was a prima facie case for trial on indictment starts today.

Prosecutor Claire Sammut from the Office of the Attorney General is assisting police inspectors Daryl Farr and Nico Zammit.

Lawyer Ilona Schembri is defence counsel.

Lawyer Chris Cilia is representing the hotel as parte civile.