Jordan Azzopardi associate has sentence slashed on appeal

A 24-year-old associate of Jordan Azzopardi has had his prison sentence for using a false banknote reduced to probation on appeal

A man was charged with possessing fake €50 notes
A man was charged with possessing fake €50 notes

A 24-year-old associate of Jordan Azzopardi has had his prison sentence for using a false banknote reduced to probation on appeal.

Neeson Abela had been arrested for using a false €50 banknote at a shop in Birkirkara in 2015. He had been identified from CCTV and by a salesgirl at a convenience store as having asked her to give him change for the note. She had given him two €20 notes and one €10 note, at which point Abela had dashed out of the shop and into a waiting getaway car “registered to a certain Jordan Azzopardi.” 

Jordan Azzopardi is the subject of separate, unconnected, proceedings in which he is accused of using various ruses to get shops to accept fake banknotes. Fake banknotes were also found hidden in the walls of his home.

The salesgirl noticed that the banknote was a forgery too late and had tried to chase the man, only to see him disappear into the Fiat Punto.

The Court of Magistrates had found him guilty of knowingly circulating false currency, violating a probation order and recidivism and jailed him for two years in 2017. 

But Abela had filed an appeal, his lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri arguing that the intentional element of the crime was not proven by evidence and that he was not legally assisted during his testimony. The defence also argued that he had been found guilty under an article of the law that was later abrogated without transitory provisions introduced to cover the transition to the newer law. The punishment of imprisonment for two years was also excessive, argued the lawyers, as the crime consisted in the circulation of only one false banknote.

Abela had told the police that he had not known that the money was fake but refused to disclose the name of the person who had given it to him, as he was an acquaintance of his and didn’t want to get him into trouble.

He claimed to have gone to buy pastizzi with Azzopardi – his boss’ son – on his break, but the pastizzi shop didn’t have change for a €50 note, and so he had gone to break it down in a nearby shop. Abela claimed to have rushed out of the shop due to the fact that his break was nearly over and because the pastizzi shop had a lot of customers.

The appellant had refunded the money to the victim in the presence of the police.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, deciding the appeal, examined the elements of the crime of using false currency. Having delved into this issue, the court said that the appellant’s claim that his intent was not proven could not be upheld. All the evidence pointed to criminal intent, said the judge. His explanation that he was in a hurry because of his break being nearly over did not hold water, said the court, pointing out that CCTV footage of him before the crime showed no urgency as well as the fact that he was in the presence of his boss’ son.

His second line of defence also fell flat, with the court noting that although no transitory provisions were introduced, this was because the crime remained one and the same.

But his argument about the punishment being excessive found more favour than his previous two. Having seen the reports by his probation officers and a Social Enquiry Report into his circumstances, the court observed that he had distanced himself from drug abuse and was holding down regular employment.

He had also matured “considerably,” said the court. Taking into account the nature of the crime, the low value of the fake banknote, the circumstances of the case and the age of the appellant, as well as the fact that he had refunded the money two days after the incident, the court said that it was concerned by the “real risk of the appellant once again taking the downhill path” if he is jailed, “when today he is a reformed person.”

Having been told by his probation officer that the man was trustworthy, the court permitted him to start a new job in Holland as long as he continued to abide by the conditions of his probation order and meet his probation officer regularly.

His prison sentence was rescinded and a probation order for three years was imposed in its stead.