VRT cheat who admitted to wrong charges sees three-year jail term reduced

The police had charged the man with trading in influence despite there not being the legal prerequisites for them to do so

The appeals court noted that the man had been arraigned on the wrong charges
The appeals court noted that the man had been arraigned on the wrong charges

A VRT cheat, who was jailed three years on charges of trading in influence, has had his sentence changed following a retrial after it emerged that police charged him with the wrong offence.

In January 2017, Godfrey Formosa was charged with trading in influence, knowingly making use of falsified documents, making a false declaration to a public authority, falsifying a VRT certificate and driving a car without a road license

Formosa, who was not assisted by a lawyer, pleaded guilty and was jailed for three years. He engaged lawyer Stefano Filletti a month later and an appeal was filed.

In his appeal, Formosa’s lawyer argued that when an accused person is unassisted by a lawyer, it is incumbent on the court to ensure that the arrest is valid and that there are the necessary legal prerequisites for the charges brought against him.

The lawyer argued that what Formosa had admitted to did not amount to trading in influence, while also noting that the first court’s sentence had not taken into account the fact that he had cooperated with the police and had admitted to the charges early on. 

The court presided over by Judge Edwina Grima, said it could not close its eyes to the shortcomings, declaring the sentence null and ordering a retrial.

In its sentence, which was handed down today, the court agreed that the there was an obligation to ascertain whether there was a strong legal basis to the charges brought against any accused.

The court said that Formosa’s statement  showed that the  police’s line of questioning pertained to a crime other than trading in influence and that the man had never admitted to this.

Despite this, the court noted that the police had charged the man with trading in influence. “How could the accused have known that a simple statement released to the police would result in the charges brought against him being changed.”

The court noted that the man was clearly an accomplice in the issuing of false VRT certificates but noted that trading in influence meant a “person A promising or paying someone else (B) to influence in an undue manner a third person C”.

On whether the sentence was disproportionate, given Formosa’s guilty plea and cooperation, the court remarked that the first court had stated that it had no objection to Formosa being handed the minimum possible punishment.

“This does not mean that the minimum punishment should have been the minimum effective jail term but rather a minimum punishment.”

The sentence, the court noted, would result in Formosa losing his business and was disproportionate beyond being punitive.

As regards the charge of falsifying a VRT certificate, the court observed that the alleged falsification had not been carried out by Formosa himself, but rather by the people he had paid to issue the certificate.

The court therefore did not find Formosa guilty of trading in influence or forging the certificate but confirmed the guilty verdict in relation to the remaining charges.

Formosa was sentenced to one year in jail suspended for two years. He was also handed a €150 fine.  

Lawyer Stefano Filletti appeared for Formosa.