A suspected loan shark who had allegedly demanded some €150,000 for a loan of €7,800, was cleared by a Magistrates’ Court declaring that the evidence put forward fell far short of the moral certainty required by law.

Anthony Galea, 56, had been arraigned alongside his 27-year old son Gilbert on Christmas Eve in 2017, pleading not guilty to charges of having loaned money at excessive rates of interest, threatening their victim and causing him to fear violence, almost driving him to commit suicide.

The alleged victim had reportedly turned towards the younger man, requesting a loan of some €10,000 to refurbish his bakery and purchase equipment for the business.

Mr Galea junior had subsequently released a statement recounting how he had involved his father who had allegedly agreed to a loan of €7,800, signing a private writing to this effect with the alleged victim.

Yet, the borrower had eventually ended up facing demands of repayment to the tune of some €150,000. He was driven to such despair that he had even contemplated taking his own life were it not for the timely intervention of the police.

Criminal action was instituted against both father and son who were arraigned jointly, both denying the charges.

Proceedings were subsequently separated, with those against the son still ongoing.

When delivering judgment against the elder of the two money-lenders the court, presided over by magistrate Joseph Mifsud observed that the son’s statement released under police questioning was not admissible as evidence against the father.

That statement, which had served to implicate the father in the alleged criminal activity, was to be discarded as evidence against him since proceedings against the person making the statement had not been concluded, declared the court, resting its decision on a line of caselaw and established teachings on the subject.

Turning to the testimony supplied by the alleged victim, the court observed that the accused’s name had only featured by way of reference by the son.

This amounted to hearsay evidence and was also inadmissible as valid proof against the accused, stated the court, adding that the prosecution had brought forward no evidence that Anthony Galea had actually been involved in the alleged usury.

“There was no evidence that the alleged victim had in any manner, at any time met or communicated, directly or indirectly, with the accused Anthony Galea in respect of the alleged money loan,” declared the court.

The prosecution had presented, by way of documentary evidence, a private writing for a loan of €7,800 signed by the accused who had stated, under police interrogation, that he had occasionally lent out money in the past.

However, the case at hand focused solely upon charges linked to a money-lending activity between the accused and the alleged victim between November 2015 and December 2017, the court observed.

“The Court reiterates that it would be very dangerous and detrimental to a person’s fundamental rights if the criminal courts were to rest upon suppositions, conjectures and emotions when delivering judgment.”

Moreover, the court warned against the dangers of overspending and living a life beyond one’s means until one ultimately turns to loan sharks.

“Anyone who ends up entangled in usury will ruin his own life and that of those nearest to him,” the court remarked.

In the light of all evidence put forward, the court concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case, the evidence falling far short of the moral certainty required by law, thus acquitting the accused of all charges.

The court also lifted a freezing order which had been imposed upon all assets of the accused since January 2018.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Alfred Abela and Rene Darmanin were defence counsel. Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia appeared parte civile.

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