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Couple who sold fake mobile phone let off the hook

No evidence that they knew the phone was fake

File photo.

File photo.

A couple who had been found guilty of knowingly selling a fake mobile phone after placing an advert on a Facebook group has been cleared of all charges on appeal.

James Farrugia and his partner Mary Grace Grima had landed a six-month effective jail term and a five-month jail term suspended for 14 months respectively after a Magistrates’ Court declared them guilty of the fraudulent sale of a Samsung Galaxy S6.

They had also been ordered to refund the €370 sale price to the purchaser, in addition to forking out €458.78 by way of court expert expenses.

An appeal was filed wherein the appellants protested their innocence, denying any knowledge that the mobile had been fake.

The whole saga had been sparked off by an advert posted on the group ‘Min ipartat u min ibiegħ’ by James Farrugia regarding the sale of the Samsung phone for €400.

An interested buyer had contacted the vendor and after reaching a deal for €370, the former had visited the address indicated by Mr Farrugia where he was handed over the packaged device by the latter’s girlfriend, Ms Grima.

The woman had allegedly explained that the phone had been purchased by a relative in England and reassured the buyer of its genuineness, inviting him to check for himself even by using the mobile’s camera.

It was only the following day that the man had attempted to take a photo with his newly purchased phone, soon realizing that something was wrong.

After inputting test software, as advised by a friend who worked in a computer shop, the man’s suspicions were confirmed. The device was indeed fake.

All attempts to have his money back failed and the man reported the matter to the police who, after due investigations, had charged the couple with having knowingly sold the phone which was ‘a fraudulent imitation’ of the original.

The court of appeal, presided over by Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, observed that although there was no doubt that the couple had sold the phone and that this turned out to be fake, the prosecution had failed to prove that they had done so ‘knowingly.’

Indeed, a court expert reported that it would not have been easy to realize at first glance that the gadget was not genuine, given that its outer appearance and packaging indicated otherwise. In fact, the expert himself had not relied solely upon a visual examination but had subjected the phone to forensic tests.

Even the buyer had said that the mobile appeared to be an ‘original’, later admitting that it had been “a very good clone.”

As for the origin of the device, Mr Farrugia had insisted that he had bought it from an Italian door-to-door salesman for €370 shortly before putting it up for sale on Facebook.

Upon the basis of all evidence put forward, the court was not convinced that the couple had known that they were selling a fake product, so much so that they had advertised the sale on a public online site.

Moreover, would Ms Grima have invited the buyer to take a photo knowing that this would have given away the fact that the phone was not genuine, the Court observed, noting further that the selling price had been slightly below the market value.

Since the prosecution had failed to prove this ‘knowledge’ on the part of the accused, the court revoked the earlier judgment, acquitting the two of all charges, whilst urging the authorities to place checks upon door-to-door transactions which were mushrooming on the island “in breach of our trade laws.”

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi and Dr Rene Darmanin were defence counsel.

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