Court acquits four of fraud as it points out legal loophole

Four people who allegedly scammed four Pakistani nurses at Mater Dei in their recruitment process were charged in 2011 with conspiracy to defraud using violence and harassment

Four men investigated for allegedly scamming Pakistani nurses at Mater Dei
Four men investigated for allegedly scamming Pakistani nurses at Mater Dei

Four men who were investigated for allegedly scamming a group of Pakistani nurses at Mater Dei Hospital have been acquitted, with two of them being handed a €200 fine for breaching employment laws.

Raymond Bonavia, David Athwal, Frankie Agius and Stephen James Grech had been charged in 2011 with conspiracy to defraud the foreign nurses, using violence and harassment, as well as breaches of laws regulating employment.

During the year 2011, the Health Ministry had issued a call for applications for the employment of nurses to address staffing shortfalls at the newly-inaugurated Mater Dei hospital.

Several Pakistani nurses applied for the jobs through a recruitment agency in Pakistan called Deluxe Company Ltd, which made the necessary arrangements for the candidates’ registration in Malta.

Chrism Services Ltd, a Seychelles company represented by Bonavia and Athwal, was handed a power of attorney to facilitate the transfer of the selected candidates.

Those candidates travelled to Malta where they signed a second agreement with Chrism Services, which had also offered to handle their  accommodation, mobile, internet and television subscriptions, against payment.

Each nurse was asked to pay €3,000, together with a further €120 monthly rental payment and a monthly €85 management fee from the 13th month till the termination of employment.

After speaking with their Maltese counterparts and finding that the contracts might not be legal, a group of nurses had complained to the local authorities, saying the persons involved in their recruitment were charging them a lot of money.

One male nurse, noticing that his contract lacked certain formalities and that the receipts he was being given were not official ones had gone to the police, who had then started investigating the suspected fraud.

Another nurse had alleged that Athwal had claimed that the money was needed to bribe officials at the visa, police and health departments in order to obtain their work documents.

But during the criminal proceedings against the four men, it had been established that there were no illegalities or irregularities in the recruitment process.

The agency contract with Chrism Services Ltd had also since been terminated in the interim and the nurses had been refunded the payments which they had made.

Acquitting the men of fraud and participation in a criminal conspiracy, magistrate Charmaine Galea concluded that there was no “formal or material element of fraud.”  

There was no evidence of any violence, or conduct which could be seen as harassment, said the court. The magistrate also observed that the nurses had all agreed to the terms of their contract before arriving in Malta.

Neither did the charge of criminal conspiracy hold water said the court, saying there was no proof of this.

The court pointed out a possible loophole in the law with regards to the unlawful deductions from wages, observing that penalties were only applicable to employers and not intermediaries, as was the case here.

Having seen all the evidence, the court declared the four to be innocent of all charges. Bonavia and Athwal were however found guilty of running an employment business without a licence and were fined €200 each.

Lawyer Joseph Giglio was defence counsel to all four accused.

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