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Court hears about cruelty, misappropriation in animal sanctuary

Freddie Fenech

Freddie Fenech

A volunteer at the Association for Abandoned Animals claimed in court today that the founder of the association, Freddie Fenech, used to keep a badly injured animal in his van so he could use it to solicit donations.

Romina Formosa was testifying against Mr Fenech, who stands charged with misappropriation of AAA's funds. He is pleading not guilty.

Ms Formosa said that she got to know about Mr Fenech from the media and, since she is an animal lover, she opted, 10 years ago, to do some voluntary work at the animal sanctuary run by AAA.

She said she used to go to the sanctuary on Saturdays and created a membership scheme to collect money. They also set up a bank account where donations would be deposited for the AAA.

However, she had noted that donations were not ending up in the account.

For example, a German couple donated money for the replacement of a roof at the sanctuary. Mr Fenech bought some corrugated metal sheets but the new roof was not any better than the old one, and the rest of the money disappeared.

Somebody else donated €600 for the purchase of food, but this too disappeared.

Items such as food and tools also used to disappear.

Money collected in charity tins was never deposited by Mr Fenech.

Ms Formosa said matters had started to sour and she would insist that he give her receipts for purchases which he allegedly made with the sanctuary's money. He refused and would get very angry and threaten her.

The witness said that Mr Fenech used to demand hefty donations when people asked him to pick up strays, but then after picking up the dogs, he would set them free somewhere else.

However she was particularly hurt when she got to know that a dog which had been run over and was badly hurt, had been kept by Mr Fenech in his van for months. He used to show it to school children and other people to solicit donations. The dog's injuries were such that it even had exposed bones.

The dog was kept in a dirty plastic basin. "It was too much to bear," the witness said, adding that the dog was eventually put down.

She added that at one time, AAA was given a donation of €10,500 by the Government. Mr Fenech told her that he knew people who could produce false receipts which they could give to the Government, and then split the money.

She told him that this money belonged to the animals and refused.

Mr Fenech had gone to Dr Mario Spiteri, the head of the Animal Welfare Department, to insist that the money should be given to him personally. However the money was given directly to the AAA.

Another witness, Stephanie Grima, said the dogs at the sanctuary were so hungry that they would eat each other and her sister once found the head of one of them.

Rosalind Agius, her sister, (and now the manager of AAA) said that she knew Mr Fenech for a long time. Her sister and herself made regular donations to him but he never issued receipts.

At first she had this image of Mr Fenech as someone of little means. But when she saw the starving dogs, sometimes kept for three days in summer without water, she realised something was fishy.

She said that Mr Fenech started to threaten them when they insisted that the funds from the Government had to be deposited directly in the AAA account, not handed to him personally.

The witness said there was now a big improvement in the sanctuary and there was no more cruelty.

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