A text from Yorgen Fenech asking 'how much did we launder?' was among a raft of WhatsApp messages submitted as evidence against him in a money-laundering case.
Fenech is accused of fraud and attempting to launder a total of €45,000 in a case involving four other alleged associates.
But the prosecution on Monday faced a robust challenge from the defence and the magistrate over whether there was sufficient first hand evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
The ex-gaming magnate is accused of committing acts of money laundering and misappropriating funds from Glimmer Limited, a company he owned with his uncle, Ray.
Four others are also accused of similar charges: Glimmer Ltd's chief operating officer Patrick Demanuele, 44, company director Anthony Farrugia, 36, and father-and-son Nicholas Cachia, 46, and his father Joseph Cachia, 67.
Giving evidence, Inspector Brian Camilleri confirmed that the total money involved in the case is €45,000, made up of two sums of €5,000 and €40,000.
From online gaming, €26,000 was deposited in Nicholas Cachia's account and flagged as irregular by an internal auditor. Only a €5,000 sum in his account featured in the suspicious sums upon which charges were pressed.
And the defence pointed out that while the alleged victim is Glimmer Ltd, neither the company nor the owners reported any alleged fraud.
Regarding the €40,000, the prosecution could not point out any underlying crime involved.
The investigations stemmed from chats which were handed to Camilleri in August 2020.
These conversations suggest a plan to funnel money to Nicholas Cachia online and through fraudulant winnings by his father, Joseph, at the land-based casino 'The Oracle' in St Paul's Bay.
Over WhatsApp, Fenech directed Nicholas Cachia to have his father gamble 'every day' in the Casino. At one point in the conversation, Fenech asked "How much did we launder?"
But lawyers for Joseph Cachia argued that there was no evidence linking him to the plot and no chats were presented between him and anyone else allegedly involved. The pensioner regularly ran errands for his son, they argued.
The Cachias' lawyer argued that the entire case was based on WhatsApp texts and "mere suggestions" and that stressed that the lawyers for the Attorney General should learn from the case.
"It’s useless arraigning persons just to clock up money laundering arraignments! It’s the number of convictions at the end of the day that count," she said.
Lawyers for Fenech said there was “a frenzy to prosecute” him that had dragged others along with him.
The defence highlighted the gravity of all this, especially in light of the fact that all accused were denied bail at arraignment stage.
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech also repeatedly asked the prosecution to explain the evidence about the alleged underlying criminal activity.
She will decide later this week whether there is enough primae facie evidence to bring the case to trial.
2.18pm The sitting is over for today. Thank you for joining us for both cases. We'll have a brief summary above soon.
Decision due later this week
2.13pm The magistrate tells the court that she expects to make a decision on both the Cachia and Fenech cases later this week. It could happen on Tuesday or Friday.
2.04pm The defence details its argument that there is "no case to answer" for Joseph Cachia. Police have no evidence linking him to any communication between the other accused, there is nothing supporting fraud charges and there is nothing illegal about his visits to the casino.
Regarding Nicholas Cachia, the defence argues that the elements of the fraud are missing because there is no victim. Regarding the alleged money laundering, there is also no underlying offence.
"The whole case is based on these WhatsApp chats which no one explained," she says. "And no one can explain them because all the parties involved are now accused."
'Clocking up money-laundering arraignments'
1.52pm The defence now makes its final arguments on whether there is a case to answer. There must be sufficiently sound reasons to “make a person go through hell" she says, with a particular reference to the older man and not "mere suspicions".
Unless there are sound reasons for Joeseph Cachia to answer for charges, then the case stops here, she demands.
"And the Attorney General must learn from this," says Calleja Grima. "It’s useless arraigning persons just to clock up money laundering arraignments! It’s the number of convictions at the end of the day that count."
Case to answer?
1.44pm The next issue is whether, at first glance, there's a case to answer.
Attorney General lawyer Azzopardi Alamango makes her case, citing chats allegedly showing that there were fake winnings to launder funds.
“Gosh! How much you’re winning!”read one of the messages.
Nicholas Cachia had a business relationship with Fenech. "In light of that relationship, what need was there to hide the funds?"
And if Yorgen Fenech, as UBO of Glimmer wanted to splash out, why were the “strange bonuses” flagged by the internal auditor?
Bail granted for Cachias
1.40pm The magistrate grants bail for both Nicholas and Joseph Cachia.
Joseph Cachia must sign the bail book twice a week, observe a curfew from 11pm to 6am, deposit €8000 and a personal guarantee of €32,000.
His son, Nicholas, must sign the bail book three times weekly, observe a curfew from 10pm to 6am, deposit €15,000 and a personal guarantee of €35,000.
1.35pm Questioning moves to bail grounds. The inspector confirms that both accused have firm ties in Malta, and always kept appointments with police bail. All material evidence has been preserved.
Lawyers for the Attorney General repeat objections made during the arraignment of the pair last week.
1.29pm The magistrate repeats a similar line of questioning to earlier. "Why did the prosecution conclude there was fraud if the company itself did not see any fraud in all this? And the other UBO, alleged victim of the fraud, was not even questioned?"
She observes that the company itself was not chaged with fraud.
The inspector says that the wider picture indicated there were gains by Nicholas Cachia.
1.23pm The inspector confirms that neither Yorgen nor Ray Fenech filed a police report alleging fraud. He also confirms that Ray Fenech did not testify in a magisterial inquiry into the issue.
After being flagged by an internal auditor, neither owner made any report re fraud.
"The reason they gave was that those high bonuses were paid out to lure a new gaming customer, to encourage him to gamble more sums," the inspector says, but he adds that the explanation "was not true".
1.10pm Camilleri confirms there was no evidence of funds transferred into Joseph Cachia's personal accounts.
The defence argues that the prosecution has no evidence regarding communication between father and son, that would possibly explain what Joseph Cachia was meant to have done to justify money laundering charges.
Again, like Fenech's lawyers, the defence pushes the prosecution on what criminal activity was linked to the alleged money laundering.
"There was reference to cash which Nicholas wanted to offload. There was cash transferred from one point to another and the most logical explanation was for tax evasion," Camilerri replies.
€5,000 was found in Nicholas' bank account, transferred from his online gaming account with Glimmer. Another €200 was withdrawn from his account.
"The transactions were made over a span of three days," Camilleri clarifies. He says a total of €26,000 was transferred into Nicholas Cachia's online gaming account.
1.07pm Camilleri says that Cachia admitted he might have gone to the casino "on an errand" for his son but could not recall the reason.
The defence points out that Cachia is a pensioner (he's 67 years old) and regularly ran errands for his son.
"What sort of errand could you run at a casino?" the magistrate asks.
Claims not backed up
1.02pm The defence pushes the prosecution to explain why Cachia is accused of faciliating money laundering.
When questioned, Joe Cachia said that he might have gone there because his son asked, but could not recall whom he met there, the inspector explains.
But was there evidence to back up that he gambled €200 each time? the magistrate asks.
No, the inspector replies, and adds that police could also not back up the claims in the chats that Joseph Cachia went to the casino every day.
What did he do wrong?
12.57pm The prosecution points to a message in which Nicholas Cachia told Fenech that his father was at the Casino but Patrick Demanuele was not. "Should I ask him to leave?" Cachia said to Fenech.
In one of his statements, Joseph Cachia said that he did not recall if he ever met Demanuele.
"So police based themselves on the fact that reference to Joe in third party chats matched precisely his attendance at the casino," the defence says.
"Could you please tell us what he did wrong?"
Camilleri says that he confirmed that he went twice and his explanation to police confirmed that he facilitated the criminal activity. He was aware of the winnings and was told to go daily.
12.52pm On questioning, the inspector confirms there is no evidence of communication between Joseph Cachia and any of the others accused in this case.
Police also have no indication of what Nicholas Cachia might have told his father.
"So could it be that Joe was sent to the casino for a totally different reason than what appears to emerge in these chats?" the defence asks.
The inspector confirms Cachia went to the casino four times.
12.49pm Defence lawyer Kathleen Calleja Grima asks what led to the arraignment of Joseph Cachia.
Camilleri says that the chats made implicit reference to Joseph Cachia, confirmed by his presence at the casino. He confirmed there was no mention by name in the chats, rather implied through 'ix-xiħ' - the old man.
Prosecution presents documents
12.43pm The inspector identifies both accused and presents documents and statements from their interrogations in March 2021.
The Casino trips
12.27pm The chats suggest Nicholas Cachia had a deposit of €200. Then Fenech messaged him: “They should have sent you €5,000."
Other chats refer to bonuses paid into the accounts of Nicholas Cachia and how company official Ray Sladden had asked for an explanation about such high bonuses.
The sum of the bonuses were flagged by an internal auditor. “High by our standards” said one of the texts. Getting €26,000 for €200 was too high.
Fenech directed Nicholas Cachia to send his father to "lose €200 daily until I tell you."
“This week your father will get a good amount (bicca qawwija)” Fenech tells Nicholas Cachia.
"How much did we launder?" Fenech asks.
"I gave you 30 and I got 11," Nicholas replies.
Nicholas Cachia messages Fenech to signal that his father had arrived at the casino and asks whether he should ask for Demanuele.
Later Fenech asks Demanuele about the winnings. “Nothing. That guy never gambled."
The inspector has summed up the main messages in a much briefer testimony. And the magistrate is pleased with the better handling of time.
'We'd better hit a jackpot'
12.21pm The inspector details other chats between Fenech and Demanuele.
“Don’t forget those €80,000” Fenech tells Demanuele in one chat. "He’s going to Oracle each day. We’d better hit a jackpot….Then take €10K and go have a good holiday.”
Casino every day
12.17am The inspector refers to the sum of €26,000. He says the chats show that Fenech and Nicholas Cachia had access to funds of undisclosed origin.
Fenech directed Cachia to send his father to Oracle casino in St Paul's Bay every day.
“Tell him to go there, even if just to have a coffee. So that we conclude this quickly," one message read.
Accused appears unwell
12.14pm Magistrate notes that the elder of the accused is not ok. “Is something wrong with the gentleman?” she asks.
Joseph Cachia lifts his hands, shaking his head. His lawyer asks if it is ok if he has a sweet and the magistrate agrees.
12.06pm Inspector Brian Camilleri, the same inspector who testified in the previous cases, takes the stand. He refers to the same chats as before.
In the chats, as revealed earlier, Fenech asked Anthony Farrugia about winnings and Nicholas Cachia is named. A deposit of €200 is made, there's a change of password to his account and a planned wagering of funds linked to that account.
The funds for wagering were to be marked as deposits not bonuses. This €200 would generate up to €20K monthly, the messages suggest.
Camilleri is summarising the crucial parts of the chats, rather than reading them all out as he did previously.
There's a mention of €85,000 to be transferred to Sweden.
Father and son enter court
12.05pm Both men enter the court. The elder, Joseph Cachia, breaks down in tears as his lawyer explains that his health is frail.
11.56am Fenech is escorted out. Next in are Nicholas and Joseph Cachia, who are also charged in connection with this case. Their separate sitting will take place shortly.
Decree on Friday
11.51am Mercieca asks the court to invervene. He says the police and prosecution must have evidence in hand before arraigning individuals.
The magistrate says she will deliver her decree on Friday.
'How can I be charged with defrauding myself?'
11.44am The lawyer cites another case where the court decreed that the testimony of the inspector was not enough to declare prima facie.
Turning to Fenech, Mercieca asks. "Where is the fraud? Where is the misappropriation? How can I be charged of defrauding or misappropriating myself? How can I be charged of laundering funds derived by my own company?"
Fenech is not the company, the lawyers for the Attorney General retort.
11.40am The defence argues that neither a reason nor evidence was put forward in this case.
There’s no criminal offence linked to the €40,000, he argues. "They dreamt them up on the eve of the arraignment and added them to the €5,000!"
He describes the prosecutor’s testimony as "all hearsay" that was "solely based on chats and nothing else".
'A frenzy to prosecute'
11.35am The magistrate asks where the prosecution would be left if the alleged victim, Glimmer Ltd, part-owned by the accused, says it was not defrauded.
“There was a frenzy to prosecute Yorgen Fenech," the defence lawyer says. "The court was opened with urgency to arraign him over an alleged case of money laundering for €5000!"
He says these people have been denied bail, so serious are the charges against them.
11.30am The lawyer for the attorney general continues, referring to the origin of funds from a section of the evidence earlier that we are not allowed to publish.
The lawyer, Cincia Azzopardi Alamango, refers to the specific text message from Fenech to Nicholas Cachia stating, “how much have we laundered?”
She makes reference to a decree by another magistrate, Natasha Galea Sciberras, in similar money-laundering proceedings.
There’s reference to circumstantial evidence to prove money laundering.
Attempt to keep it under wraps
11.26am The court presses the prosecution to explain what evidence they have of criminal activity.
Lawyers for the Attorney General say that the text messages indicated a fraudulent plan and and the funds of undisclosed origin were in cash.
They say the messages inducate attempts to conceal things. Such was the attempt to keep everything under wraps that one of the texts read “to make sure that not a single word is given away.”
And Fenech was fully aware, giving instructions to set up the "system".
€45,000 in total
11.21am Regarding the figure of the €26,000. Mercieca points out that this isn't included in the money-laundering charges.
He asks what evidence materialized to support the charges?
The inspector replies the he didn't fomulate the charges, as that's for the Attorney General to do.
As the defence seeks to get confirmation of the funds allegedly laundered, the inspector insists that it’s €5000 plus €40,000 so €45,000 in total.
The four other accused
11.18am On questioning by defence, the Inspector confirms the four others mentioned in the chats, who are also charged, in separate proceedings.
Just as a reminder, they are:
- Nicholas Cachia;
- Joseph Cachia;
- Patrick Demanuele;
- Anthony Farrugia.
From €200 to €26,000
11.14am The inspector explains further. He says that Nicholas Cachia deposited €200 in his gambling account and he got €26,000 in return. These were bonuses on his account with Glimmer Ltd.
This €26,000 was in Cachia's portomasolive.com account and stayed there until they were withdrawn by the company when the issue arose.
'I cannot link it to criminal activity'
11.11am The court again asks the prosecution if it has evidence about the alleged underlying criminal activity?
"For money laundering to exist there must be tainted proceeds," the magistrate asks.
"At this stage I cannot link it to any criminal activity," the inspector says.
Glimmer Ltd transactions
11.08am The defence now turns to Glimmer Ltd. "How many global annual transactions is Glimmer involved in?" Mercieca asks. "What if I tell you that those exceed millions annually," he says.
"There weren’t millions in 2019, the year concerning these proceedings," the inspector replies.
Payment for horse
11.05am Merceica challenges the inspector about whether he knew of Fenech's hobby for trading and owning horses.
He points out that the invoice linked to this investigation states "payment for horse".
11am The defence says the prosecution apparently came across the evidence for another sum of €40,000" at the 11th hour", a day or so before the arraignment.
What criminal activity was identified in relation to this sum?
Again the prosecution is unable to answer.
The magistrate intervenes.
"So you are telling the court that you have not yet identified the criminal activity upon which the money laundering charged must be underpinned," she says.
"And as for the other €5000 sum, you said that the company and other UBO (ultimate beneficial owner) was not asked about the alleged fraud.
"So did the company confirm that it did not know the reasons of those money transfers?"
The Inspector says that the company said the reasons it was given did not match those resulting from the chats.
10.58am The defence presses on. "This is very serious," Mercieca says. "Here we have individuals facing a possible maximum jail term of 18 years! Before arraigning, the prosecution must make sure it has sound evidence.
Where is the fraud?
10.55am The inspector tells the court that the WhatsApp conversations indicated that there were plans to transfer funds to be deposited as benefits.
He says the funds were transferred through fraud after a plan for laundering money was hatched.
"But where did the ‘soiled’ funds come from?" Mercieca insists.
"I cannot tell exactly," the inspector replies.
"But where is the fraud?" the magistrate asks
Glimmer Ltd defrauded
10.53am The defence continues: "Who were the beneficiaries of Glimmer?".
Yorgen Fenech and Ray Fenech, the inspector repeats.
"So this company allegedly defrauded was half owned by the accused whom you’ve prosecuted?" Mercieca asks. "And did you question the other beneficial owner?"
"No", the inspector replies.
Low level of evidence
10.49am After questioning by the defence, the inspector identifies Glimmer Ltd as the company that was defrauded.
"Was the company asked if it was victim of fraud?", the magistrate asks. "Did the company tell you it was defrauded?"
The inspector replies: "Directly no but it was internally flagged by the company’s auditor."
The magistrate cautions that "this is a very low level of evidence".
10.45am Mercieca asks if the police have any report or complaint from a company that was allegedly defrauded?
The prosecution confirms it has not.
Merceica asks: "You decided to press charges. So you must have had enough evidence on which to do so. What criminal activity did you detect?"
"Fraud,"the inspector replies. "And the €5,000 was laundered".
10.42am Asked about this €40,000 sum. the inspector says he verified that the transaction details and accounts matched "the communications which I had in hand."
Mercieca asks if he compared this transaction with the chats and then asked the accused about them.
The inspector says he did.
10.36am "What was the sum actually laundered?" the defence begins.
"€5000 went to account of Nicholas Cachia," the inspector replies.
However €40K was deposited into Fenech's account, he adds.
10.34am We're back. Inspector Camilleri takes the witness stand again under cross examination
10.22am The court is not at all pleased and takes a firm stand.
“The court had already informed the parties that today’s hearing was to reach prima facie stage and that’s how it will be!” says the magistrate.
"When you choose to arraign, you must put forward evidence and today both sides were informed that that evidence was to serve to reach a decision on the prima facie (ie: whether there are sufficient grounds to commit the accused to trial)”.
The court is suspended for 10 minutes while the defence prepares submissions.
10.15am The inspector says there is also the magisterial inquiry, but the note to wrap it up has not been filed yet.
Busy court schedule
10.12 am The magistrate says the court is inundated with cases and cannot concede another sitting in the near future. The court’s diary is jam packed. She can only allocate another hearing on Friday.
“It’s the prosecution’s prerogative when to arraign and they ought to have filled up the whole sitting," she says.
“You insisted on reading out each message and these chats mentioned 'fictitious transactions' here and there.”
She asks the prosecution what other evidence they have.
Anthony Farrugia, left, and Patrick Demanuele, right, also face money-laundering charges. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
10.07am The magistrate asks the defence if they want to cross examine. The defence asks what other evidence there is to support the case.
Based only on that testimony, the defence will contest the prima facie (sufficient first hand evidence that there's a case to answer).
10.05am The inspector has finished testifying and now presents documents, namely Fenech's statements taken in March, April and August 2021. They are audio visual statements so they are presented as CDs.
Nicholas Cachia, left, and his father Joseph Cachia, right. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
Questioned four times
10am The inspector continues. He says that Fenech was interrogated four times, always assisted by his lawyers.
09.57am The next part of the testimony cannot be published because investigations are still ongoing, the inspector says.
The magistrate remarks that proceedings should take place in open court but upholds the prosecution’s request after due explanation.
'He never gambled'
09.55am On October 1, 2019, Joseph Cachia went to the Oracle Casino, the inspector continues.
“What did he win?” Fenech asks Demanuele.
“Nothing," Demanuele responds. "He never gambled.”
'How much have we laundered?'
09.51am On September 30, 2019, Fenech asks Demanuele to get a sum ready in €50 banknotes.
There’s reference to “il-Buddy” - the nickname of Anthony Farrugia (aka Tony Gozo).
“They’ve transferred 11 into my account,” Nicholas Cachia tells Fenech.
Fenech replies: "How much have we laundered?”
Cachia responds: “I gave you 30 and you gave me 80."
09.47am A conversation between Demanuele and Fenech now.
“Just to let you know that I’ve been questioned about the high deposit” Demanuele tells Fenech.
Demanuele sent an email titled “extra bonus” to someone named Sladden - possibly a reference to Ray Sladden, group finance director of Tumas, who apparently was asking questions.
“Check the transactions… the amount given as bonuses is high,” he was told.
'Next week we'll make 25'
09.44am In the chats between Cachia and Fenech, there’s mention of “his father,” meaning Joseph Cachia.
“Next week we’ll make some 25,” Fenech tells Nicholas Cachia, who replies with a smiley face.
Fenech replies: “It’s because it’s you. Because it’s quite a hassle."
09.38am More chats. 'Tony Gozo' tells Fenech that €200 has been deposited in the Glimmer account.
Nicholas was sent €200 and Glimmer Limited deposited €5,000 in his account.
Fenech informs him of the deposit and tells him the password was changed. There's also mention of a screenshot showing €11,000 in Cachia’s account.
Glimmer Ltd is owned 50/50 by Fenech and his uncle, Ray. Anthony Farrugia and Patrick Demanuele were officials of Glimmer Ltd. Glimmer Ltd is linked to Portomaso online gaming.
Farrugia was linked to the online side of Glimmer Ltd. Demanuele was focused on the land-based side of business.
09.34am The chats continue, this time between Fenech and Cachia.
“OK boss. Do I get ID card or the card they gave us (at casino)?” Nicholas Cachia asks Fenech.
And the chat continues.
Nicholas Cachia: “I’m here boss.”
On August 30, Fenech messages Demanuele, Tony Gozo and Nicholas Cachia, who writes: “Better meet before so we get it done with at the weekend.”
'Give him a jackpot'
09.29am There's a reference to the Oracle casino, operated by Tumas group, of which Fenech was a director.
Fenech tells Demanuele: “That guy is going to Oracle every day. It would be best to infaqqgħu a jackpot (give him a jackpot).”
The date of that chat matches the visit history of Cachia at the casino.
09.25am Again the defence interrupts to ask if the inspector could summarise the messages in his own words. The magistrate agrees.
The inspector refers to other chats between Fenech and Patrick Demanuele in August.
Fenech texts Cachia. “Did you count the money?”
Demanuele replies: “They’re still in the envelope.”
He counts the banknotes and says they add up to €26,000.
The inspector says that Fenech, referred to as "boss" in the chats, had sums of cash which were from an unidentified source. There's a reference to “ix-xiħ”, which seemed to be a reference to Joseph Cachia, Nicholas’s father.
Other messages continue later in August, between F, Demanuele and Nicholas Cachia.
Gap in exchange
09.22am The inspector says there was a gap around July 2019, when Fenech did not reply to messages. The exchange continued in August.
'Get rid of the cash'
09.20am These chats being read out in court now are between Fenech and Nicholas Cachia. The messages make reference to cash in France and wanting “to get rid of cash.”
09.17am Cachia messaged Fenech saying that he needed to forward €85,000. He asked Fenech for help. Later an invoice in Word format dated 1/6/19 was found from an address in Sweden. “For selling you 100% of (two names - probably horses).
The messages indicate that the transaction did not take place. There was reference to cash.
09.16am The defence interrupts and suggests the inspector give a summary rather than read out from his notes. The inspector is reading at top speed.
09.12am Anthony P Farrugia and Patrick Demanuele are also mentioned as being involved in the chats. Both face related charges.
Anthony Farrugia's name was saved as 'Tony Gozo'. The chats took place in April 2019 and September 2019. Others were identified between February and October. There were also chats on another messaging app, Signal.
Extracts of the chat
09.07am The inspector reads out extracts of the chats.
Fenech was the first to send a message and the other party replies.
Fenech: “Did that one win those monies?”
Third party: “Yes”
Fenech: “No need for withdrawal today. He needs to win the money today!”
Third party: “Nicholas Cachia?”
The conversation continues: “The money added we’ll mark as deposits not bonus.”
Cachia. who is one of the five also charged in connection with this case, had €200 on his account at that stage.
It's a bit tricky to follow, but in a nutshell, the chats seemed to indicate a plan to give a win to someone.
09.05am Inspector Brian Camilleri takes the witness stand. He refers to WhatsApp chats dating throughout 2019 between Yorgen Fenech and a third party. The chats led to suspicion about plans for criminal activity involving Fenech and the third party. He presents a copy of the chats to the court.
Behind closed doors
09.04am The Attorney General asks the next testimony to be heard behind closed doors. They don’t want details of ongoing investigations to be divulged. But the magistrate, on the suggestion of the defence, says that testimony is to be heard in public. Certain details will be omitted.
Recusal turned down
08.58am After hearing the arguments, the magistrate delivers a decree. She turns the request down.
08.55am We're starting with a request from Yorgen Fenech for the recusal of the sitting magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech.
The Attorney General objected, saying the request was "unfounded".
Fenech's lawyer Charles Merceica refers to a media report and cites other instances where members of judiciary upheld recusal requests for similar “familiarity”.
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