VAT department employee found guilty of money laundering jailed for two years and six months

The woman was found guilty of helping another department employee to receive money from bribes to reduce VAT bills for third parties

File Photo
File Photo

A VAT department employee was sentenced to two years and six months in prison after the Appeals Court reconfirmed that she was guilty of money laundering and drug possession among other things.

Ruth Gatt had been found guilty back in 2015. In 2009, she was charged with helping another VAT department employee, Nigel John Abela, to receive money from bribes to reduce VAT bills for third parties.

Abela and Gatt had opened a joint bank account after they had formed an intimate relationship. The court heard how Abela had later asked Gatt to open an account in her name to hide money from his wife in view of ongoing separation proceedings.

Ruth told the court that she believed that the money being deposited in her account through cheques had been previously loaned by Abela to third parties and that she was not aware of the sources of the cash.

In 2015, Abela had admitted to police that people paid him between €100 and €5,000 in bribes but prosecuting inspector Angelo Gafa had said that there were others who paid much more.

Abela had told the police that Emanuel Hili from the VAT inspectorate department and Charles Deguara and Charles Caruana, also VAT Department employees, were involved in the scheme as well.

Abela had said that his cocaine addiction cost him €300 daily.

Due to her involvement, Gatt was sentenced by the first court in 2015 to three years’ imprisonment and to pay a fine of €1,998.46

She appealed the sentence, claiming that she had been sentenced unfairly because she could not possibly have had the intention to launder money.

The Appeals court, however, presided over by Judge Giovanni Grixti, was not convinced by her argument.

“The accused used to sign the cheques and pass them on to Abela as she was ordered by him to do. She was the instrument of secrecy and the payments made to her account were designed to hide Abela’s identity and activities,” the court said, adding that such a move was a basic form of money laundering.

The court said that it was convinced that Gatt had her suspicions on the illicit nature of the monies being deposited in her account and that she was aware of the bribes.

Gatt argued that there was no secrecy on her part because she openly kept the money in her account.

“The money used to be deposited in her account so that Nigel Abela’s name would not crop up anywhere,” the court said.

Gatt was also accused of passing on confidential information regarding VAT registered individuals, thus breaching professional secrecy. The court quoted the law, saying that every person employed in public administration should consider each documentation as private and confidential.

The accused said that the information wasn’t secret because she passed on the same information to other employees.

“That argument is extremely frivolous. The information passed on to Nigel Abela wasn’t transferred so that he could fulfil his professional duties. He was doing work outside of his job, so much so that the accused told him to be careful. Just because he was still an employee in the same department does not mean he has the right to confidential information… especially if this information was not intended for internal use within the same department,” the court replied.

Gatt said that the punishment handed down by the first court, three years’ imprisonment, was excessive. The crime wasn’t as bad as the trafficking of human persons, terrorism or drug trafficking, she argued. She claimed she had a weak character, was naive, and is a single mother.

The court did not believe that Gatt is a naive individual but said that it would make sure that the punishment was proportionate.

Gatt was again found guilty of all charges, including drug possession but her sentence was reduced to two years and six months in prison.

Judge Giovanni Grixti was presiding magistrate.

Assistant Police Commissioner Ian Abdilla prosecuted.