Former Enemalta accounts chief acquitted of metre tampering as court overturns conviction

Louis Vella had been found guilty and sentenced to 14 months in prison, suspended to 28 months back in March 2018

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

An appeals court judge has overturned a conviction for meter-tampering handed to Enemalta’s former head of accounts, arguing that the evidence showed the conviction had not been “safe and satisfactory”.

Inspector Matthew Vella had charged Enemalta’s former head of accounts Louis Vella of Mosta with electricity theft in 2014, after a tampered meter was found installed at his home. Vella was found guilty in March 2018 and sentenced to 14 months imprisonment, suspended for 28 months.

The court had heard how Attard had allegedly arranged with his wife's cousin, Enemalta employee Anthony Mifsud, to send technician Paul Pantalleresco to install a tampered meter at his Mosta home in February 2011.

The tampered meter was removed in 2014, at around the same time that Pantalleresco was jailed for two years for accepting bribes and installing more than 250 tampered smart meters. 

Local Enemalta technicians, Italian experts and an engineering professor had all independently confirmed that Attard's meter had been intentionally slowed by smearing a conductive paste onto internal components of the device, which caused it to register consumption at roughly 53% lower than it should have. 

Attard claimed to not have known about the tampered meter, while Mifsud denied ever asking Pantalleresco to change the meter.

After being sentenced by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, both Vella and the Attorney General had filed an appeal, the former arguing that he should be cleared of all charges and the latter demanding that he also be found guilty of aggravated theft.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera re-examined in detail all of the testimony relating to the aggravated theft charge. She noted that both the AG and the defence had alleged that the first court had made the wrong interpretation of the evidence, but for different reasons.

The remit of the Court of Appeal was not to re-interpret the evidence presented to the court of first instance, but to see whether it had been reasonable in reaching its conclusions.

In a 35-page decision, replete with copious references to case law, the judge noted that the prosecution should have notified the duty magistrate on the day of the inspection, as this would have triggered an inquiry which would have preserved the meters.

Instead, the meters were handed, already detached, to court experts who could not establish when the tampering had taken place.

The court noted that the accused and all involved had consistently denied having anything to do with the tampering incident in question. Pantelleresco had admitted to tampering with the meter but denied doing so at the accused’s behest.

He had said that he had made arrangements with Anthony Mifsud and that when the tampered meter had been installed, the accused had not even been at home.

The court, in view of this, ruled the conviction was not “safe and satisfactory” and declared the man to be innocent of all charges.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila were defence counsel.

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