Pardoned cheat ‘whistleblower of convenience’

The credibility of testimony which former Valletta footballer Seyble Zammit gave in exchange for a pardon, was questioned in an appeal against the acquittal of another player involved in the scandal

Seyble Zammit
Seyble Zammit

Questions have been raised over the credibility of testimony which former Valletta footballer Seyble Zammit gave in exchange for a pardon, as a court heard an appeal against the acquittal of another player involved in Malta's match-fixing scandal.

Zammit admitted corruption charges in April in return for being made exempt from punishment for collaborating with the investigation into related cases. But when, in August, two other players alleged to have been involved in the conspiracy – Emmanuel Briffa and Kyle Cesare – were also declared innocent, the Attorney General filed an appeal against their acquittal. 

Cesare and Briffa had been found not guilty of fixing a March 2016 Under-21 game between Malta and Montenegro, that Malta went on to lose 1-0, after presiding Magistrate Joe Mifsud was told that plans to rig the match had been abandoned before the two players even broached the subject of monetary compensation. 

In a sitting before the Court of Criminal Appeal last Thursday, Briffa’s defence counsel laid out the case for dismissing the Attorney General's appeal. Lawyer Stefano Filletti chipped away at what he called Zammit’s “flamboyant lack of credibility”, arguing that the prosecution had based its entire case on Zammit’s “false and inconsistent testimony”.

Emmanuel Briffa (left) and Kyle Cesare
Emmanuel Briffa (left) and Kyle Cesare

He said Zammit’s endgame was clear when he chose to testify, Filletti argued, saying it was to escape the consequences by choosing to fabricate a story. “Unfortunately, he succeeded in getting away scot-free,” 

Filletti also pointed out that the prosecution had hinted that there would be more witnesses and evidence incriminating Briffa, but this additional evidence was never exhibited during the testimony given by Zammit.

Briffa’s lawyer pointed out that had Zammit not been accorded the opportunity to testify against his client, he would have been sitting in the dock beside him. In fact, when questioned by police, Zammit had never mentioned Briffa at all; it was only after the prospect of freedom and complete immunity from punishment were dangled before Zammit, that Briffa’s name cropped up, Filletti argued.

He said this contributed to “a massive problem with the credibility of Seyble Zammit’s testimony.”

Filletti argued that the pardoned football cheat had implicated Briffa in something he had no part in, and that under cross-examination, he himself had told the court that at no point had he ever offered money to the other players, but had only offered to organise a meeting with former footballer and accused Ronnie Mackay.

Filletti said Zammit’s inconsistencies were revealed when he claimed that he had been under pressure to throw the game under pain of a €7,000 refund for the travel expenses of the Chinese betting syndicate that travelled to Malta to commission the operation. But he later testified to taking the €7,000, and later on said he had only been promised the sum. “One can only conclude that Seyble Zammit lied under oath,” Filletti said.

The defence lawyer called Zammit a “whistleblower of convenience” acting solely out of self-interest, who had “acted with great malice, incriminating Emanuel Briffa to save his own skin.”

Filletti said his client was scared of Zammit, because Zammit formed part of an element of society that thought nothing of using violence against those who defied its wishes, the lawyer said – pointing to the recent arson attack on a car belonging to sports journalist Sandro Micallef, who was allegedly targeted for reporting a match’s final score.

The footballer had wanted nothing to do with these activities, the lawyer said, but his refusal of Zammit’s offers had been less than emphatic “simply because he was being cautious in his actions.”

Lawyer Clifton Grima, appearing for Cesare, told the court that his client's footballing career dreams  had been jeopardised by Zammit who, the lawyer said, had named the two players in a move aimed at self-preservation.

The case continues.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti is representing Emanuel Briffa and Lawyer Clifton Grima is appearing for Cesare in the proceedings. Lawyer Kevin Valletta from the office of the Attorney General is leading the prosecution.