The Malta Independent 30 September 2022, Friday
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Marsaxlokk parish priest's deposits red flagged when compared to earnings

Wednesday, 17 August 2022, 19:33 Last update: about 2 months ago

Marsaxlokk parish priest Fr Luke Seguna had bank deposits amounting to €450,000 over seven years, when his salary amounted to only €75,000 over the same period.

The information emerged in the first sitting of the compilation of evidence against Seguna, 39, accused of misappropriation of funds and money laundering.

Seguna was charged last week and the Curia placed him on administrative leave pending the criminal investigations. Seguna’s arraignment last week was cut short after he complained of chest pains and had to be rushed to hospital for treatment.

Seguna remains in prison since bail was denied at the end of today’s sitting.

Inspector Christopher Ellul from the police’s Financial Crimes Investigation Department testified how in March 2022 the police received intelligence that in the bank accounts of the accused, a number of transactions were not congruent with the financial status of someone holding the occupation of a parish priest.

Bikes, a Land Rover and a garage

The inspector said that in 2016, the year he became a parish priest, the salary of Seguna amounted to €16,204 and increased gradually each year until it reached €20,613. According to the prosecution his salary from the Archdiocese was his sole income and he received no inheritance.

The inspector said that on 28 December 2021, the accused purchased a garage in Paola at a value of €34,000. Seguna was in possession of five motorcycles, a Land Rover and a Fiat 500. These were all acquired between 2014 and 2021.

Seguna held 10 bank accounts in his name and as the parish priest he was the signatory of the bank account of the Marsaxlokk parish.

During the period between 2015 and 2022, Seguna’s bank accounts showed a total income of €449,000, with the prosecution noting that his salary only amounted to €75,000 before tax during the same period.

Police established that more than €200,000 in cash deposits were made to his bank accounts between 2015 and 2021.

Parish account, dubious cheques and dementia

In the period between 2017 and 2020, €24,000 were transferred from the Marsaxlokk parish bank account to the HSBC account belonging to Seguna in the form of cheques.

Two cheques from a certain Joseph Attard to Seguna had inconsistent signatures and six cheques from a certain Louis Caruana to the accused amounting to €15,000 were also found to have inconsistent signatures.

In one HSBC account, Seguna received €75,000 in cheques ranging from €300 to €5,000. Inspector Ellul said that HSBC spoke to the accused in 2020 about the deposited cheques. The accused told the bank that Caruana was a parish attendee who used to ask him for money to distribute it among various charities.

Seguna had informed the bank that he had given €10,000 to Caruana, but had then asked for the money back. The cheques from Caruana, were ostensibly, the money that the parishioner paid back.

According to the prosecution, Caruana died in 2021 and during the period in which the cheques were issued, he was suffering from dementia, as per a declaration from the health authorities.

Asked by the bank for the reason why the money was deposited to his personal bank account, Seguna said it was his personal money, adding that €4,000 was donated to him during an event celebrating his 10-year anniversary since being ordained a priest.

Tombola, arbular and Revolut

The prosecution said that a number of transactions were marked as tombola, masses and ‘arbular’. Ellul said that on the official Facebook page of the Marsaxlokk parish, an ‘arbular’ system was in place were parishioners could donate €10 per month for the needs of the parish.

In his Revolut account, between 2019 and 2020, Seguna received donations from 47 individuals, amounting to around €120 each. “The amount was consistent with the ‘arbular’ and reached a total of around €6,000,” Ellul told the court.

Between 2016 and 2022, €107,000 were withdrawn from Seguna’s bank accounts, with €52,000 being cash withdrawals and the rest being spent in restaurants and establishments.

Marsaxlokk parish income drops

The books of the Marsaxlokk parish showed that during the period between 2014 and 2016, the yearly income was always over €90,000. Seguna became the parish priest in October 2016.

In 2017 and 2018, the income was €75,000, in 2019 it amounted to €65,000, dropping further to €25,000 in 2020 and €37,000 in 2021.

Ellul noted that one had to take into account the effect of the pandemic for the years 2020 and 2021.

When interrogated, Seguna said that he made additional income through weddings and other ceremonies, and from personal donations.

“When asked how he distinguished between donations to the parish and personal ones, the accused said that he always asked the donators to specify,” Elul said.

Seguna told police that the majority of donations came from parishioners, and apart from cash he also received vouchers and clothes. He also stated that he made “tens of thousands of euros” from attendees of his 10-year priesthood anniversary.

Defence brands prosecution a ‘disgrace’

The accused told police that the garage was financed through a loan scheme with the Curia, that had to be paid over six years. Seguna also stated that he took two loans in order to finance the €27,000 second-hand Land Rover.

During the deposition, defence lawyer Matthew Xuereb started shouting ‘għarukaża’ (disgrace) at the prosecution. “So, this is a case of money laundering? Are you accusing this priest of money laundering?”

The prosecution told Xuereb to allow them to carry on with their duties.

Asked about the expenses that he had, Seguna told police that they were mainly related to the upkeep of his vehicles.

According to the prosecution, Seguna refused to comment about the cheques from Louis Caruana and Joseph Attard, and about most details in relation to the deposits and transfer of funds.

At the end of the sitting, Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras denied Seguna bail since witnesses were still to be summoned.

The court was adjourned to Thursday 25 August at 9:30am.

The defence was led by lawyers Matthew Xuereb and Jose Herrera.

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