A man charged with money laundering over funds channelled into his bank account as proceeds of a romance fraud was spared an effective jail term but ordered to reimburse the victim.

Youssouf Madou Soumaoro Ben, a 35-year-old Ivorian national working in Malta as a dishwasher, had been targeted by investigators as a player in a case where an elderly woman was swindled after falling prey to a fake virtual relationship. 

Although he originally pleaded not guilty to money laundering and benefitting from funds obtained through criminal activity, he subsequently registered an admission which was taken into consideration for sentencing purposes.

When meting out punishment, the court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, also took note of the accused’s clean criminal record, the nature of the offence and the fact that he was only responsible for the one-half share of the €8,000 involved in the ruse. 

In light of such considerations the court condemned the accused to a two-year jail term suspended for four years.

Moreover, rather than impose a pecuniary penalty, the court ordered the accused to reimburse €4,000 to the victim within six months, warning that failure to do so would immediately bring into effect the two-year jail term.

In terms of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the court further ordered forfeiture of all assets, movable and immovable, of the accused, including those situated outside Malta.

The case stemmed from police investigations sparked by an elderly woman who claimed to have been swindled out of some €58,000 by a man posing as a US soldier stationed in Afghanistan who told her he would move to Malta following his deployment. 

Yet, several bank transactions later, the woman sensed that she had fallen victim to a scam and reported the matter to the police.

Four Nigerian men and a Maltese woman were arraigned in February, while a sixth suspect was rounded up and charged later that month.

Soumaoro Ben was targeted in April as the seventh suspect in ongoing investigations into the case of another woman claiming to have been similarly defrauded out of some €8,000.

Inspectors Claire Borg and Sarah Zerafa prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyers Abigail Caruana Vella, Karl Muscat and Sean Xerri de Caro. 

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