Two cleared of forgery after $1.5 million bearer certificate scam

Courts clears men of all charges, blaming 'serious communication problems' between management of the bank concerned, the police and the accused

(File photo)
(File photo)

Two men who came to Malta to try and cash a $1.5 million bearer certificate have been cleared of possession and use of falsified documents.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud heard how the Russian men had decided to come to Malta to ascertain the authenticity of the documents after a number of emails and phone calls went unanswered.

The accused, a 38-year-old man and a 51-year-old man, both from Moscow had denied charges of possession and use of falsified documents and fraud.

The charges date back to 12 June when, at around 10:10am, the two men had gone to the Valletta branch of Lombard Bank to verify whether the bearer certificate they were in possession of could be cashed. The court heard how one of the men knew very little English and the other spoke none at all.

Police Inspector Christabelle Chetcuti had told the magistrate that the pair had been arrested after the police received a report from bank employees that they had tried to cash the $1.5million using falsified documents.

Four identical bearer bonds were exhibited in the acts of the case.

A manager from Lombard Bank had testified that this type of bearer bonds had been discontinued over 30 years ago, adding that the bank had never used the fake bond’s format but that the logo on it was “somewhat modern.”

Lombard’s Chief Executive Joseph Said told the court that when the certificates had been brought to his attention, he had immediately identified them as being fakes due to the bonds all having the same reference number.

One of the accused had explained to the police that his friend’s son had approached him. He had asked a friend who had connections to a bank about the bearer certificates, he said.

The man had tried to communicate with the bank before travelling to Malta to verify the documents, said the police, adding that there were a number of phone calls from Russia to Lombard in the days mentioned by the accused.

Manager immediately noticed something wrong.

The bank manager had explained to the court that he had taken the bearer bond certificates and took them to the Chief Executive who immediately told him that they were not valid. The certificates, which had not been on the market for 20 years, bore a recent logo whilst the signature could not be identified.

Whilst a bearer certificate could be used as payment, the manager told the court that someone who accepts a $1.5 million bearer bond certificate without carrying out checks would be “stupid.”

He explained that the bank did not answer the man’s emails as that type of email were associated with hacking attempts.  Furthermore the bank had never issued bearer bond certificates, he said.

A court appointed expert said that the documents had no security features and used a logo similar to Lombard Bank’s. In his testimony he said that for a document to be a forgery there had to be an original already in existence, but if the original did not exist “then it is an invention.”

The court saw that there had been several attempts by the two men to communicate with the bank to try and obtain information about these bearer certificates and noted that the mere attempt to obtain information could not be taken as a use of the documents in question.

Blaming “serious communication problems” between the bank management, the police and the accused, the court cleared the accused of all charges. It ordered the destruction of the false bearer certificates.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud presided. Police inspector Christabelle Chetcuti prosecuted. Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was defence counsel.