Court confirms BOV deposit box fiasco
A court has confirmed a judgment acquitting a couple of fraud after it heard how a mistake by a bank manager allowed two couples to have simultaneous access to the same BOV safety deposit box, with both claiming that the €40,000 inside was theirs.
The court had cleared Maria and Victor Xuereb of defrauding the bank when the safety deposit box they were using was being shared with another couple, Mary Rose and Anthony Mangion.
Chaos erupted at the BOV San Ġwann branch when, in September 2010, it emerged that safety deposit box 79 Blue was being used by both couples.
The issue came to light when, soon after being assigned the box, the Mangions found American dollars in it that did not belong to them. They said their €40,000 was still in the box.
The Xuerebs, who had been making use of the box for about 10 years, received a phone call from the bank informing them what had happened. When the Xuerebs went to check the box, they said their €40,000 was missing but their American dollars were still in the box.
Bank of Valletta recognised it had made a mistake and, given the good relationship it had with the Xuerebs, gave them the benefit of the doubt and refunded the €40,000. Meanwhile, the manager responsible for the mistake was demoted to supervisor.
In March 2011 – a year later – the Xuerebs were approached by the police. The Police Commissioner had ordered an investigation without receiving a request from the bank and the Xuerebs were charged with fraud. The first court had cleared the Xuerebs due to lack of evidence.
Madam Justice Edwina Grima, presiding over the Appeals Court, said that the circumstantial evidence presented in court was too “poor” to secure a conviction. Moreover, she said the bank, which through negligence had created this mess, could never ascertain who was the proper owner of the €40,000.
“With all due respect, there are too many doubts surrounding this case, so it does not blame the first court for arriving at the conclusion it did.
“Everything was based on conjecture and suppositions. It could therefore never arrive to the conclusion that the bank had been fooled by the Xuerebs and therefore does not see any reason to modify the judgment of the first court,” she said in her judgment.
Lawyer Lucio Sciriha represented the Xuerebs.