Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera has just passed a judgment that could have major ripple effects on future money laundering cases.
Earlier this month, Pilatus Bank’s former head of compliance and legal Claude-Ann Sant Fournier was charged with money laundering along with the bank itself.
The prosecution, as it typically does in these cases, asked the court to freeze her assets, as well as the bank’s, but Sant Fournier’s lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Grima objected.
By the police’s own admission, Filletti argued, the only funds found in Sant Fournier’s account were deposits from her salary, and therefore the request to freeze her money amounted to a “vexatious” request.
Magistrate Joe Mifsud ruled in favour of the defence and the Attorney General’s Office promptly filed an appeal in front of the Court of Criminal Appeal.
In a ruling today, Judge Consuelo Scerri Herrera upheld the magistrate’s judgment.
Explaining her reasoning, she said that the entire point of freezing orders is to stop suspects making use of assets whose provenance is criminal activity so that the state will be able to confiscate said assets if they are found guilty.
In the eventuality that the accused would have spent the money before they are found guilty, the law allows the courts to fine them an amount equivalent to the money spent.
“At such an early stage, where the court has yet to decide whether to place the accused under a bill of indictment, the court believes that a freezing order shouldn’t apply against Sant Fournier because, as per the prosecution’s testimony, she isn’t in possession of assets derived from criminal activity,” Scerri Herrera ruled.
“Therefore a freezing order won’t act as a safeguard in favour of the state’s ability to recover assets generated from criminal activity, but will only act as a great prejudice to her, with the state interfering in her usage of legally acquired assets.”
She argued that this would be disproportionate with regards to the constitutional right that people enjoy over their own property.
This is the first time a Maltese court has declined a freezing order against someone charged in their personal capacity and the decision confirmed on appeal.
Do you agree with this decision?