Allied Newspapers managing director Michel Rizzo and the group’s former chief financial officer Claude Licari have been granted bail but Progress Press’ assets have been frozen.
Rizzo and Licari were charged today with money laundering, fraud, conspiracy to commit a crime punishable by imprisonment, false declarations to a public authority, and forgery.
Both are pleading not guilty.
Financial crime investigators haven’t started presenting their evidence against the two men yet but confirmed that the issue revolved around a grant after he was questioned by Rizzo’s lawyer Joe Giglio.
Inspectors Joseph Xerri and Annie Marie Xuereb objected against their request for bail, arguing that witnesses from Progress Press, who Rizzo is a director of, Malta Enterprise and PWC, need to testify. They warned that releasing the men on bail before they testify would risk him tampering with evidence.
However, Giglio and lawyer Roberto Montalto, representing Licari, strongly insisted that their clients be granted bail.
Giglio argued that the witnesses had already spoken to the police and that their testimony will ultimate help the defence. Meanwhile, Montalto said that bail should be the norm, not the exception.
Magistrate Charmaine Galea upheld the defence’s request for bail, against a deposit of €20,000 and a personal guarantee of €50,000, saying she was satisfied there is no risk that they will tamper with the evidence.
They are forbidden from leaving the country or entering the company’s offices, must sign a bail book twice a week and observe a curfew between 11pm and 6am.
She also froze the assets of Progress Press, the company which used to print Times of Malta and which Rizzo is director of. An administrator will be appointed to manage the company.
Rizzo is the third managing director of Allied Newspapers, the company which owns Times of Malta, to face charges in the wake of a magisterial inquiry requested by former PN leader Simon Busuttil in 2017 off the back of a leaked FIAU report.
Vince Buhagiar has been charged with money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud, corruption and false declarations to both Customs and Malta Enterprise. His successor Adrian Hillman hasn’t been charged yet as the Maltese authorities are still trying to extradite him from the UK.