A contractor facing multi-million euro fraud charges and who owned exotic animals and luxury cars gave his official address at a location that turned out to be an uninhabitable field. 

The address on Martin Farrugia's ID card referred to a field that was rented from someone else, the prosecution told a court on Monday as it objected to bail.

He had proven difficult to track down to face a previous unrelated criminal case.

On Monday a court found sufficient prima facie evidence for the contractor from Rabat and his former clerk, Henrietta Cassar, to face trial over charges of money laundering and fraud running into several million euro.

During the previous sitting, prosecuting Inspector Joseph Xerri testified that among Farrugia’s assets were a number of exotic animals and luxurious vehicles including two Lamborghinis, two Porsche models and a Maserati.

Police investigations had kicked off in 2021 after the VAT department flagged suspicions about Farrugia who appeared to be linked to a €4.2 million fraud.

'Not too happy with cheques'

A number of his clients had made claims for refunds on capital investments.

But when police checked a number of manual fiscal receipts issued by the contractor , several discrepancies emerged between the actual value of the works and the claims made by Farrugia’s clients. 

As investigators delved deeper, questioning over 44 clients, they were told that Farrugia insisted on payments in cash and was “not too happy with cheques.” 

When proceedings continued on Monday, a number of officials representing the Commissioner for Revenue testified, supplying details about VAT and income tax in relation to both co-accused as well as Farrugia’s companies.

Cassar was not VAT registered, but Farrugia was, submitting returns both manually as well as by electronic means. 

A year-by-year breakdown of Farrugia’s income tax returns for basis years 2012 to 2022 indicated a pending balance of €350,645 currently owed by the contractor. 

Four boxes of documents, including 53 receipt books and the allegedly fraudulent invoices, were also exhibited by an official from the VAT department. 

Following those testimonies the court, presided over by Magistrate Leonard Caruana, declared that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for both accused to stand trial on indictment.

The hearing then focused on bail requests filed on behalf of both accused. 

AG lawyer Abigail Caruana Vella explained that since their latest objection to bail in respect of Cassar, “certain developments” had taken place and further statements had been gathered. 

In light of those developments, the prosecution was no longer objecting to bail in respect of Cassar. 

However their position remained unchanged at this stage in respect of Farrugia, said Caruana Vella, reaffirming their objection to bail. 

Cassar’s lawyer, Franco Debono, pointed out that although the two were charged jointly, both cases were technically separate and different. 

Farrugia’s lawyer, Dominic Micallef, stressed that his client was innocent until proved otherwise. 

44 witnesses

Moreover, investigations had been ongoing since 2021 and a number of third parties had already released their statements to the police, which meant that evidence was preserved. 

The accused knew about the investigations and yet he did not try to approach the witnesses, which numbered some 44, over all these months. 

“So where is the real fear of tampering with evidence?,” asked Micallef, questioning whether the accused would be expected to be held in custody until all those witnesses testified.

If the police wanted to investigate further, they could do so but not to the detriment of the accused. 

The prosecution’s fears could be balanced out by adequate conditions imposed by the court, argued the lawyer, highlighting the constitutional principle that detention was the exception to the rule. 

The prosecution rebutted that the case was a “complex one” because it covered a long number of years, many persons and a lot of money. 

The case was a serious one wherein Farrugia would insist on being paid in cash or blank cheques by third parties who were still to testify. 

That evidence was not included in the documents exhibited.

Farrugia’s address on his ID card referred to a field that was uninhabitable and rented from a third party who was also still to testify. 

The accused also had other civil cases and a criminal case at a district sitting where he proved difficult to track down. 

Besides, investigations were still ongoing and lots of material evidence, including electronic devices, still to be analyzed. 

Farrugia’s lawyers countered that if granted bail, he would reside with his father who today was also present in court. 

Magistrate Caruana is expected to decree on bail in chambers. 

The case continues in June. 

AG lawyer Abigail Caruana Vella and Inspector Joseph Xerri prosecuted .Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb were counsel to Cassar.Lawyers Dominic Micallef and Etienne Borg Ferrante were counsel to Farrugia. Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Jacob Magri, Stefano Filletti, Ramona Attard and Adrian Sciberras are appearing parte civile for various alleged victims. 

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