The Malta Independent 21 September 2021, Tuesday

Former local council officials acquitted over 2008 travel ticket saga

Wednesday, 15 September 2021, 17:05 Last update: about 5 days ago

All of the former mayors and local councillors who had been charged in relation to a 2008 expenses fraud scandal have now been acquitted, after the remaining four accused were acquitted on Wednesday morning.

They had been accused in the wake of an investigation led by OLAF, the EU's anti-fraud office, which found discrepancies in a large number of airline tickets the price of which had been fully reimbursed by the EU, but were actually bought at a cheaper price.

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The court had been told how tickets issued by KD Travel Services Limited to the Local Council Association and to its members, who allegedly also had private accounts with the same travel agency, would be parallel invoiced with the purchasers then claiming back a higher amount from the EU.

Former Birkirkara deputy mayor Doris Borg, former Mellieha mayor Joseph Borg; San Lawrenz mayor Noel Formosa, former Fgura executive secretary Oreste Alessandro, former president of the local councils' association and former Kalkara mayor Michael Cohen, former Qrendi local councillor Claudette Abela Baldacchino, former LCA president and former Gzira councillor Ian Micallef had been charged with several offences, including fraud and misappropriation, after the probe.

In previous appeal proceedings which concluded in 2019, Kenneth Demartino, Noel Formosa and Ian Micallef, had been cleared of all charges.

In a judgment handed down by magistrate Josette Demicoli on Wednesday, Alessandro, Borg, Cohen and Abela Baldacchino were also acquitted.

Magistrate Demicoli underlined that the prosecution had failed to summon representatives of local banks to testify about the accused’s accounts and that of the Association. “Although criminal intent was not proven, this doesn’t mean that things were done correctly. But here we are in the Criminal law sphere and it is only the evidence brought before the court that is evaluated,” observed the magistrate.

Likewise, the charges of misappropriation were also not proven, as the money paid by the Committee of the Regions were not paid under a title stipulated at law.

On the charges of falsification, the magistrate ruled that on the basis of the evidence, she could conclude that while it was true that the fact that the accused would pass on manual invoices and present them to the Committee of the Regions as evidence of airline ticket purchases, could be taken as complicity in falsification because the price stated differed from that actually paid, it had not been proven that this was done knowingly.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Ian Abdilla prosecuted the case.

Lawyers Emmanuel Mallia, Ezekiel Psaila and Dustin Camilleri were defence counsel.

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