Debtors falsely accuse friend of usury in bid to clear debt

One family's nefarious plan to get out of repaying €8,800 they had borrowed from a friend by accusing her of usury has been foiled by the courts.

One family's nefarious plan to get out of repaying €8,800 they had borrowed from a friend by accusing her of usury has been foiled by the courts.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit heard how Raymond Bonnici's partner Doris Vella had borrowed, a succession of small amounts from Josephine Scerri, building up a credit of Lm3,700 (€8,618.67), which Vella was repaying at the rate of €400 per month.

Scerri did not charge any interest on these loans.

From Bonnici's testimony, which the court described as “confused and incoherent,” it emerged that his partner had borrowed a €6,380 from the accused before 2010 and had signed a document to this effect. In a document dated May 2010, Vella had borrowed €8,880 from Scerri.

Vella had told the court that, in actual fact, it had been her mother who borrowed an amount unknown to the witness, who, “however was conveniently convinced that the amount included interest on the interest.”

But the woman's version started to crumble after a representative from the Department of Social Security had confirmed that Vella had always benefited from Social Security handouts, contradicting Vella's claim that she had not always made her monthly repayments because her benefits had not been paid.

Doris Vella had taken the witness stand as parte civile. She claimed to have borrowed some money from the accused in the past, but when she had then borrowed a further €3,700 from Scerri, the accused had started charging interest on the interest.

However, Vella was unable to recall the year the loan was made or how much she had repaid. All she could remember was that she was paying €400 per month, she said, also conveniently forgetting the final sum she was due to repay.

Casting further doubt on the credibility of her story, Vella contradicted her daughter's testimony by saying that she was always be alone with the accused when handing over cheques.

Scerri's testimony gave an altogether different picture, however. Vella and the accused had been friends, she said. She would often borrow things or cash from the accused and would return them in due course.

On one occasion, Doris's daughter, Graziella, had approached the accused and asked for a loan to prevent their electricity supply from being disconnected due to them being significantly in arrears.

The daughter had requested €6,380, which the accused had agreed to lend her out of pity. The two women had signed an agreement stipulating the loan to be without interest and repayable in monthly installments of €400.

Subsequently, Doris Vella had called upon the accused and asked for a further loan of €2,500 to pay a fine which had been incurred by her partner. They agreed to join the two loans into one loan of €8,880, repayable in monthly installments of €600, signing a second private writing to this effect.

The court pointed out that the offence of usury occurred when the interest rate on a loan exceeded 8% and noted that there had been no interest charged in this case. What emerged most clearly, said the court, were Bonnici's maneuvers.

In spite of him not being directly involved in the case, Bonnici appeared to know more of the facts than the borrowers.

“When these two had grown tired of getting into debt with the accused, whom they had found convenient, and upon seeing their outstanding total going up by a considerable amount to the point that they could not repay, they decided to fabricate a story about the accused that would wipe out their debts.

Joyce Scerri was declared innocent of all charges and released.