A former senior official at the Fisheries Department who admitted to money-laundering and fraud, had his four-year effective jail term converted to a three-year probation term.
Francis Caruana, 60, had been charged back in 2014 with acts of money-laundering, extortion, misappropriation and fraud to the detriment of the department, which had allegedly come to light when discrepancies were flagged through internal audit reports.
The issue was linked to fees payable to the department on the release of imported fish, with officials being entitled to a commission on release forms signed in relation to inspections carried out after office hours.
Caruana had effectively pocketed some €32,000 and failed to declare the funds received through his nominal fee entitlement on his annual tax returns.
The former public official was convicted in June of last year, landing an effective jail term and a €63,000 fine, besides confiscation of all his property, both movable and immovable, for breaching money-laundering laws.
When proceedings reached appeal stage, the court, presided by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, observed that pending final judgment, the appellant had refunded the €32,000 to the department.
The man’s lawyers argued that in effect, some 95% of the money had been due to Caruana by way of overtime payment and disturbance allowance.
However, as explained by former Fisheries Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia when testifying in court, Caruana had simply pocketed the funds instead of going through the proper channels, applying to his superiors for payment in respect of inspections carried out after office hours.
In any case, the accused had subsequently registered an admission and had even refunded the money calculated to have been payable to the department, Madam Justice Scerri Herrera observed.
However, on the basis of all evidence put forward, including a pre-sentencing report by a probation officer, the court observed that the appellant had since taken up a new job and led “a very stable life” backed by a supportive family.
Moreover, the man was a first time offender, having never fallen foul of the law, and was striving to fulfil his responsibilities, thus putting his life back on track.
“Society can derive no protection through his imprisonment,” said the court, noting further that more benefit could be derived if the appellant were to be guided by a probation officer, keeping up with repayments to his victims “and possibly repaying society through community work.”
Even the Attorney General had not insisted at appeal stage on an effective term of imprisonment.
In the light of such considerations the Court varied the effective jail term to a three-year probation period, while confirming the €63,000 fine and the confiscation of all the appellant’s property as well as €10,730 in court expert expenses.
Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Amadeus Cachia assisted the appellant.
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