A man accused of defrauding a man out of US$700,000 in cryptocurrency was uncooperative when police arrived at the restaurant where the alleged fraud took place, a court heard on Tuesday. 

Police inspector Brian Xuereb told a court that he went to a Sliema restaurant on June 16 after receiving a call from an acquaintance of his, Dillon Attard, who asked him to go there “quickly” because he had just been defrauded. 

“If he runs off with the mobile, I have nothing,” Attard had told him with a sense of urgency. 

The officer was testifying on Tuesday in the ongoing compilation of evidence against Luke Milton, a 25-year-old company director who is pleading not guilty to misappropriation and fraud, cryptocurrency theft, money laundering as well as various breaches of the Virtual Financial Assets Act.

Attard claims that Milton stole the $700,000 worth of crypto from him after he handed him his phone over lunch. Milton claims that Attard defrauded him out of $5,000 which he had transferred to Attard to convert to cryptocurrency.  

Inspector Xuereb recalled seeing Attard and Milton seated at a table with a couple of glasses of wine and appetisers at around 3pm. 

Investigators from the police’s financial crimes department subsequently joined Xuereb and the two men at the restaurant and asked both Attard and Milton to hand over their phones.

While Attard immediately did so, Milton adamantly refused and grew tense, slipping his phone into his pocket, saying that police had no right to it and that he had a right to speak to a lawyer. 

Two FCID officers also described the scene at the restaurant when called to testify today.

Gilbert Gatt, one of the officers, said that Milton had kicked up a fuss, raising his voice insisting that he “worked in court” and so “knew about such matters.”

The suspect was finally escorted to FCID offices and had to be handcuffed before the police finally managed to take his mobile out of his pocket. 

The man was later temporarily detained inside a cell, his mobile in full view to reassure him that the device would not be tampered with. 

Inspector Wayne Borg, another FCID officer, testified about the episode and presented footage of Milton’s arrest.

He also confirmed that the accused had insisted that he “worked in court” and had many lawyer friends before telling police that he was a company director and thus frequently went to court on work-related matters. 

The court was also told about the searches at the accused’s Rabat home the day after his arrest. 

The man had initially refused to cooperate, saying that he did not have the keys to the place. He later directed police to his girlfriend who handed over the keys. 

A broken iPhone and a MacBook were seized from the premises. 

Two hard drives were the only electronic devices found at a four-storey Qormi showroom to which the accused had access. 

Police found a printer but no computer to operate it, the Court was told. 

As the sitting drew to an end, the accused’s lawyers made final submissions on bail, strongly rebutting the AG’s objections which mainly dwelt upon the fear of tampering with evidence, the nature of the charges and the fact that vital evidence could be lost. 

This was a perpetual denial of liberty, like “perpetual emphyteusis” argued lawyer Matthew Xuereb, while his colleague, Charles Mercieca, added that a person’s freedom was at stake. 

“So are we saying that as from today every person charged in a crypto currency case will not get bail?”argued Mercieca. 

Parte civile lawyer Franco Debono pointed out that the accused had not yet supplied his mobile phone’s password and his lawyers were meant to take a position on that by today’s sitting. 

After hearing out all parties, the court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, said that a bail decree would be delivered in chambers. 

There was sufficient prima facie evidence for the accused to stand trial, the court declared.

Meanwhile , an IT expert was appointed and ordered to examine the contents of the accused’s phone without delay, doing everything necessary to extract that data. 

The case continues in August. 

Inspector Anthony Scerri together with AG lawyers Karl Muscat and Francesco Refalo prosecuted.

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