Passport official hid money bags in lunchbox and desk, witness tells court

An Identity Malta employee, when challenged about three missing money bags, had offered to pay back €20,000 if the agency did not get the police involved

An Identity Malta employee accused of embezzling agency funds had asked his superiors to report his actions to the police and offered to refund €20,000 if they did not, the Court heard today.

Martin Bowerman, a senior Identity Malta official, testified that a number of money bags that were meant to have been deposited with the bank were unaccounted for and that the agency’s suspicions had fallen upon the defendant.

Joseph Calleja, 60 from Mosta, stands accused of misappropriation, fraud as well as the falsification of documents or the use of false documents.

Bowerman said that when asked about the missing bags over email, Calleja had told his superiors that he was trying to settle accounts after a number of clients had presented invalid cheques.

The missing funds were deposited by the end of that month, but the same issue arose the following month.

Bowerman said that, in that second incident, Calleja did not reply to an e-mail sent by his superiors, who then demanded an explanation in person.

When questioned about the missing funds, Calleja allegedly pulled out a money bag from his lunchbox, another from the desk and some more money from his pockets. The cash was immediately counted, sealed and handed over to the police. 

Bowerman said that Calleja later offered to pay back €20,000 if the agency did not get the police involved.

Calleja reportedly confessed to having somehow misplaced three deposit bags full of money. Fearing the consequences of a confession, he had decided to take matters into his own hands to redress the balance, delaying the deposit of bags at the bank.

The court heard that the agency had confirmed that the number of passports issued tallied with the money collected and that the relative documentation was also in order. However, the figures with the bank did not tally since some bags were not deposited immediately.

The court was told that as at the end of June, Identity Malta was €44,456 short.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech heard the prosecution explain how according to standard operating procedure, all money bags collected at the end of the day were to be closed in the presence of two employees.

These procedures were however not being strictly observed since agency colleagues had trusted the accused with the task of closing the bags and carrying out the relative reconciliation exercise alone.

The case continues. Inspector Priscilla Caruana Lee prosecuted. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was defence counsel.

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