A couple selling poultry products at a village store, who landed under money laundering charges last month, had allegedly registered a €2 million turnover since 2013, on a declared annual income of €20,000.

Anthony Manicaro and his wife Mary Grace, 58, from Tarxien, were back in court earlier this week, having been released on bail upon their arraignment in mid-September, after pleading not guilty to money laundering and allegedly running an unlicenced financial institution.

The court had been told that the spouses would occasionally sell produce on credit to underprivileged customers, later accepting social benefit cheques in settlement.

The man had, in fact, told police how he “truly pitied those [customers] who would turn up at his shop, some five-year old child in tow, with no money,” explained lead prosecutor Inspector Oriana Spiteri, as the accused couple followed closely at the dock, the husband leaning on a walking aid.

That was why he willingly handed over purchases on credit, the shopowner had told investigators.

As the prosecuting officer gave a detailed overview of the investigation trail, it emerged that the couple had registered a €2 million turnover over the past seven years.

Police suspicions were roused by the significant number of cheques deposited into the couple’s joint bank account, many issued by the Central Bank or by third parties.

A forensic expert was roped in to conduct an in-depth analysis of the couple’s financial standing, Inspector Spiteri went on.

This revealed that the husband was the sole registered breadwinner, paying tax on an annual declared income of €20,000, on a self-employed basis. An accountant allegedly filled in his tax return.

The wife was last registered as employed in 1996.

The man subsequently explained that the woman lent a hand in running the shop. As parents of a paraplegic son, the couple also faced significant medical expenses, the police were told.

A joint bank account of the spouses, had been closed in 2018 and the €88,000 balance therein was then transferred to another bank, into an account held solely in the woman’s name.

Her husband later explained, under questioning, that the move had been prompted by a letter from an alleged creditor, threatening a garnishee order on the couple’s bank deposits.

Inspector Spiteri also explained how the couple had purchased two garages, for €105,000 and €60,000, without getting a loan or selling any other property to cover the expenses.

They had also bought two vehicles, the second one a refrigerated van to be used in their daily business.

The police had also approached third parties, many lacking bank accounts and living on social benefits, who allegedly said that it was “convenient” for them to cash their cheques at the “Tarxien garage,” avoiding long queues at the post office branches or banks.

These customers had described the manner of business at the poultry store.

They would normally hand over their cheque to the woman who, after a brief consultation with her husband, seated at his usual spot, would hand over the cash, jotting down the personal details of the customer on a notebook, against their signature.

The couple allegedly charged around €5 to €7 per transaction, “sometimes depending on the mood,” third parties had told investigators.

Customers had also confirmed that they sometimes bought eggs, chicken and rabbits on credit at the shop, settling the balance through social benefits or third party cheques.

The case continues.

The court is presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech.

Inspectors Oriana Spiteri, Keith Mallan and Danilo Francalanza prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyer Andrea Zammit.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Stefano Filletti were defence counsel.

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