Financial crimes investigators who seized electronic equipment from the home of a former senior official at Pilatus Bank in April still have to establish if the data is relevant to money laundering proceedings pending in court.
Analysis of the data, which is still to be extracted from a number of devices, turned out to be a bone of contention between the parties when proceedings against Claude-Ann Sant Fournier continued in court on Tuesday.
The former money laundering reporting officer stands accused of aiding and abetting money laundering activities both in her personal capacity and also in her former official capacity at the now-shuttered bank.
Two computer towers, a MacBook Air, a Samsung tablet, a Samsung phone, an Apple iPhone, a Nokia phone, a USB and plug were seized from Sant Fournier’s family home during a search on April 5.
Yet, seven months down the line, prosecuting inspector Claire Borg said she could not tell what data they contained, requesting instead the appointment of a court expert to download and analyze such data.
But that request promptly sparked a series of questions and objections by the defence.
Those devices were seized at the time when the magisterial inquiry into suspected criminal activities at Pilatus Bank was already wrapped up. That inquiry, directing criminal action against Sant Fournier, had led to further investigations against the official and the search at her home, lawyers pointed out.
Asked by defence lawyer Stefano Filletti as to who issued orders for the search, Borg said that it was a decision “taken by all” but could not recall who had actually given the order.
As for their terms of reference, the inspector said that they searched “for anything that could be related to Pilatus Bank.”
“How did you decide that these personal family items were relevant?”asked Filletti.
“She may have sent an email or something of the sort,” explained the witness, confirming that Sant Fournier had supplied all passwords to the police.
Repeatedly pressed by the defence to explain why that equipment was deemed relevant, the prosecuting officer said that police had seized all electronic devices since “anything that did not come to light during the magisterial inquiry, could possibly be in there.”
That reply did not satisfy Sant Fournier’s lawyers, nor the court.
Investigations had to be complete, observed Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, pointing out that the seizure of such devices ought to have been requested under the authorisation of the inquiring magistrate and any relevant data therein preserved accordingly.
Preserving such evidence should be carried out before criminal charges are instituted, the magistrate calmly explained.
Entrusting the task to an expert appointed during the compilation of evidence stage would also pile expenses upon the accused.
“God forbid that we descend into the absurdity of making the accused pay for being investigated,” the magistrate said, pointing out that the court could authorise the downloading of the data.
“What if for instance only 10% of all that data is relevant? A court expert would be appointed to analyze only that 10%,”explained the magistrate.
The defence insisted that the compilation of evidence was “neither an investigation nor a fishing expedition.”
It was unacceptable that the prosecution, in spite of having these devices and passwords since April, should now embark “upon a fact-finding mission” without even knowing if this equipment belonged to Sant Fournier at the time relative to the charges she is currently facing.
Allowing the prosecution’s request would uselessly “inundate” the records with lots of family photos, videos and other such personal material, said Filletti, strongly objecting and further requesting the court to order that the equipment exhibited on Monday be removed from the records of the case.
Lawyer Stefan Camilleri, representing Pilatus Bank, expressed agreement with that position.
The prosecution said that investigators had adopted a cautious approach to avoid accessing privileged documents on the accused’s devices, given that Sant Fournier was a lawyer.
But that remark prompted Filletti to rebut that police had “seized everything” from other suspects who were also lawyers.
“Produce evidence not hypothetical facts!” Filletti hit back.
AG lawyer Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango countered that at the present stage of proceedings, the prosecution was bound to produce evidence both in favour of and against the accused.
The court declared that it would decide upon the prosecution’s request in chambers.
The case continues next month.
Inspectors Claire Borg and Pauline Bonello are prosecuting, assisted by AG lawyers Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango and Marthese Grech.
Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Calleja Grima are counsel to Sant Fournier.
Lawyer Stefan Camilleri is assisting Fabio Axisa, PWC partner, appointed as competent person to represent Pilatus Bank.
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