Two former members of the Under-21 Maltese national football team have been declared guilty of match-fixing after a court of appeal overturned the original judgment that had cleared them.

Kyle Cesare, 22, and Emanuel Briffa, 23, were last month hit by a life ban issued by UEFA’s Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Board.

Read: Six Malta U-21 players banned for match-fixing

The two had been arraigned before the Maltese Courts after a fellow footballer turned whistleblower had alleged that the two players were involved in bribery surrounding the Malta-Montenegro European championship qualifier match played on March 23, 2016.

The two sportsmen had been cleared of the charges of association for the purpose of committing a crime and of bribery of players before a Magistrates’ Court in August 2016. The magistrate had observed that the young men had been the victims of peer and social pressure which, coupled with their immaturity, robbed them of their free judgment.

Whilst observing that the facts alleged did in fact subsist, the first court had cleared the young men of criminal responsibility since they had acted under "an extraneous force which they could not resist".

Yet the court of appeal, presided over by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti, concluded that there was no evidence to support this conclusion reached by the first court, adding that even the accused’s lawyers had not taken up this line of defence.

Moreover, the Court failed to understand how the Magistrates’ Court could have safely reached its conclusion when "evidence, even if indicative, was unequivocal and pointed in one direction".

After the alleged shock of the initial encounter, when the proposed match-fixing had taken the two inexperienced players unawares, they had not reported the matter to the authorities. Moreover, there had been two other meetings and the plan for the match to be lost by the home team was hatched.

This plan was deemed ‘sufficient’ to constitute the crucial element of the offence which the first court had deemed missing, the Court observed.

In the light of such evidence, the court upheld the Attorney General’s appeal, revoked the earlier judgment and declared the two footballers guilty, treating them as first time offenders and conditionally discharging them for two years.

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