A middle-aged couple who run a village butcher shop, sometimes selling produce on credit to customers living on a stretched budget, landed in court facing serious money-laundering charges.
Anthony Manicaro and his wife Mary Grace, 58, from Tarxien, were targeted by criminal prosecution after their family business became the focus of police investigations upon suspicion that the couple were carrying out underhand financial transactions.
The husband and wife were arrested and jointly arraigned on Thursday afternoon, pleading not guilty to money laundering and allegedly running an unlicensed financial institution and bank in breach of financial services and banking law.
The prosecution objected to bail in view of the gravity of the charges and the possible risk of tampering with evidence.
Yet, defence lawyer Stefano Filletti countered that the case “was serious simply because the prosecution wanted to make it serious, misconstruing the facts”.
The couple sold eggs and poultry for a living, sometimes allowing certain customers living below the poverty line, to pay later, either in cash or by means of social benefits cheques.
Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, also assisting the couple, stressed there was no criminal wrongdoing, since the shop owners kept written records of their customers’ debts and the transactions were easily traceable.
Moreover, all documents and receipts related to the business had been seized by the police, meaning that there was no risk of tampering with evidence, the lawyer stressed.
Denying bail would cause “immense suffering” to the couple who also happened to be the parents of a paraplegic son, Filletti further pointed out, as the wife wept throughout the hearing.
Inflicting a freezing order, as requested by the prosecution, would severely impact the couple’s livelihood since the fresh produce at their shop would also be hit by the court order, he said.
After hearing submissions by both parties, the court, presided over by magistrate Doreen Clarke, upheld the request for bail against a deposit of €2,000, a personal guarantee of €10,000 each and an order to sign the bail book once a week.
The court upheld the request for a freezing order on all assets, movable and immovable, of the accused.
Inspectors Oriana Spiteri, Keith Mallan and Danilo Francalanza prosecuted. Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Stefano Filletti assisted the accused.
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