A couple who run a confectionery store in Marsa on Monday faced money laundering charges over claims that they cashed customers’ cheques against commissions of up to €16.
Alan Harmsworth, 44, and his wife Josephine, 41, pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.
Police investigators say they have spoken to around 25 customers of the store, some of who told them that they were charged between €3 and €16 in commission for each cheque cashed.
An analysis of the couple’s bank account showed that they had deposited several cheques.
The investigation dates back to 2015 and defence lawyer Joe Giglio was quick to point out that at the time, cheques could be issued on an “or order” basis and not just “pay only” as is the case nowadays.
Pay-only cheques can only be deposited to an account in the name of the person to whom the cheque is addressed, rather than third parties.
Prosecutors told the court that the couple was hardworking and that some customers had described the woman as being “kind-hearted”.
They however objected to bail, saying civilians had yet to testify and not all customers yet had been identified. Many of them were third-country nationals with no fixed address, the prosecution said.
Defence lawyer Giglio argued that the investigation had been going on for a while, the couple had cooperated throughout and the evidence against them was mainly documentary.
Magistrate Ian Farrugia agreed to grant the couple bail against a €3,000 deposit and €7,000 personal guarantee each. He stressed that the couple was not to approach any civilian witnesses under any circumstance and ordered that they be made to sign a bail book twice a week.
Inspector Oriana Spiteri and lawyer Gary Cauchi from the attorney general’s office prosecuted the case. The couple were represented by lawyers Joe Giglio and Roberta Bonello. Inspectors Claire Borg, Keith Mallan and Danilo Francalanza also prosecuted.
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