Two men accused of having stolen thousands by placing skimming equipment on ATM machines across Malta were this afternoon arraigned in court. 

Emil-Alexandru Hrinca, 30, and Silviu Mirica, 34, having no fixed address in Malta, stand charged with having formed part of a criminal organisation. The two are facing charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, forgery and of having made an unlawful gain exceeding €5,000 to the detriment of HSBC Bank Malta plc, APS Bank and Bank of Valletta Ltd.

Mr Mirica was charged by Inspector Matthew Vella from the Economic Crimes Unit with having masterminded the alleged criminal activity. Mr Mirica allegedly installed hidden cameras on bank ATM machines in various localities around Malta and used them to obtain card details when customers withdrew funds.

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The court, presided by magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia, heard how this information was then used to produce counterfeit cards which were used by the men to withdraw cash. Nine such cards were found on the person of the accused at the moment of arrest.

Mr Mirica was arrested last Saturday after being caught red-handed while withdrawing money from an ATM in Gzira. The court was informed that €270 in cash were found upon him at the time of his arrest. A wallet containing personal documents, a train ticket, an empty SIM card cover, a SIM card and two fiscal receipts were handed over to the court.

When asked by the court to state his plea, Mr Mirica at first insisted on pleading guilty in spite of his lawyer's advice to the contrary. Later, he appeared to have a change of heart and indicated his intention to plead not guilty.

Mr Hrinca, the second accused, was found in possession of a batch of 50 counterfeit bank cards at the time of his arrest.

CCTV images showing the accused wearing the same clothes as those worn today in court were forwarded to the police from the BOV branches in BKara, Bugibba and Qawra. The accused was carrying €1,100 in cash when arrested.

Mr Hrinca pleaded not guilty and was denied bail on the ground that he has no fixed address in Malta. He was allegedly living at a place without any valid legal title. Moreover, the court deemed the accused to be untrustworthy. Since investigations are still ongoing and in view of the gravity of the offence, the court declared that it would deny bail at this premature stage of the proceedings.

The hearing in respect of Mr Mirica is still ongoing.

Lawyer Joseph Ellis was counsel to Mr Mirica. Lawyer Yana Micallef Stafrace was counsel to Mr Hrinca.