Port workers foreman's acquittal on fraud charges confirmed on appeal

The court rejected the Attorney General's appeal on the grounds that when the case was assigned to a different magistrate ' the prosecution made no request for witnesses to be re-heard'

File Photo
File Photo

A former port worker at the Freeport who had been implicated in an attempt to defraud a transshipment company operating within the Malta Freeport has had his acquittal confirmed on appeal.

Victor Spiteri, 80, whose job as a port workers' foreman was to direct unloading operations at the Freeport yard, had been accused of fraud, falsification of documents, making false declarations to public authorities and making use of such false statements.

He had come under investigation after Ronald Galea, a former General manager at CMA CGM, who was also suspected of defrauding the company, had named Spiteri as being involved in the scheme in which Spiteri was supposed to issue fictitious invoices for works whilst Galea would approve the payment, with the profits being shared between the two.

Galea had admitted to the relative criminal charges but in 2013, Spiteri was acquitted by the Magistrates’ Court, as presided by then-magistrate Carol Peralta.

The Attorney General had subsequently filed an appeal against the man’s acquittal on the basis of an alleged misinterpretation of procedural law and an incorrect assessment of evidence. The AG had pointed out that the first court had discarded the testimony the key prosecution witness -  Ronald Galea - who it declared not credible, even though he had not testified before that magistrate, but before former magistrate Jacqueline Padovani Grima before she was appointed a Judge.

This failure to hear witnesses testify personally before proceeding to deliver judgment, relying solely on transcripts of evidence, had led to a wrong interpretation of facts, the AG argued.

The court of appeal, presided over by Mr Justice David Scicluna, observed that when the case was assigned to a different magistrate “the prosecution had made no request for witnesses to be re-heard.” Nor was there any reference to the matter when the prosecution made final pleadings.

On the merits of the case, the court observed that a cheque for Lm11,400 allegedly issued for non-existent works had actually been used by Galea as part payment for the purchase of a boat he had ordered.

This meant that Spiteri had never actually pocketed any money, the court observed.

In the absence of reasons to vary findings of the first court, the court of appeal confirmed Spiteri’s acquittal and rejected the AG’s appeal.

Lawyer Veronique Dalli was defence counsel.

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