PC technician gets symbolic €5 fine for taking the law into his own hands

Man had taken back two PCs which he had supplied to Fontana local council but was never paid for

A court has handed a symbolic fine of €5 to a computer repair man who took the law into his own hands when he took back two PCs which he had supplied to the Fontana local council and was never paid for, in an incident which the court said was down to the council’s lack of professionalism.

In July 2017, 38-year-old computer technician Jimmy Saliba from Zebbug, Gozo had been asked by the then executive secretary of the Fontana local council to repair her computer, so as to reduce the risk of important data being lost.

Saliba had also supplied new hardware at the behest of the secretary, who told the court that she had informed the mayor of this over the phone as he “did not check his emails.”

The pricetag for the work came to a total of €450. But the council then let eight months lapse without paying him. This was due to a change in the holder of the executive secretary post, and a June 2017 vote which unanimously decided that Saliba’s invoice was to remain in abeyance. In that meeting it was also decided to allow Saliba to take back computer parts installed “without council authorisation.”

The PC technician had only gotten to know of this decision after bumping into the Fontana mayor. After the chance encounter, Saliba had duly gone to the offices and retrieved two computer towers and an external hard drive.

The council had subsequently filed a police report claiming theft, and notified all the relative authorities, as well as the minister, parliamentary secretary and Data Protection Commissioner, over the possible breach of data protection protocols.

Saliba was charged by Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri with exercising a pretended right, misuse of computer hardware, hampering the functioning of a government entity and damaging government property.

In a 72-page-long judgment, Magistrate Joe Mifsud slammed the “amateurish” way the Fontana Local Council had acted, branding it “irresponsible” and blaming it for the incident.

The court noted that the accused had explained that he had not accessed the computer system to steal or tamper with data, despite being charged with having done so, but to preserve it.

But on the other hand, the magistrate said that just because he had been notified of the council’s decision permitting him to take back the parts, this did not mean the accused “could arbitrarily, without informing anyone, just enter the council premises and take whatever he pleased.”

Finding the accused guilty of having exercised a pretended right, the court condemned the accused to a token €5 fine. Saliba was acquitted of all the other charges.

In addition to this, however, the court went one further and sent a copy of the judgment to the Local Government Board to investigate what it said was the Fontana local council's "unprofessional behaviour".

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