Friday, June 18, 2021

Malta’s Allied Newspapers Group officials face fraud and money laundering charges

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Progress Press managing director Michel Rizzo and former financial controller Claude Licari have been charged with fraud and money laundering.

They were also charged with making fraudulent gains to the detriment of Malta Enterprise between 2013 and 2019, criminal conspiracy, making a false declaration and falsification of a public document.

The charges are related to a Malta Enterprise funding application, a court heard on Thursday. Licari, who left Progress Press “long ago” is also charged with breaching accountancy laws.

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As well as Rizzo, Licari, the company Progress Press, which is the printing arm of Allied Group, faces similar charges.

Defence lawyers for Rizzo, Licari and Progress Press said the charges are being “strongly contested”. Lawyer Joe Giglio told the court there was “no evidence” that Rizzo took any funds and said his financial profile is “impeccable”. The police said they were satisfied with the explanations given as well as Rizzo’s financial profile.

Both men were granted bail against a deposit of €20,000 and a personal guarantee of €50,000 and have been ordered not to approach the offices of Progress Press, the airport, coast or any seacraft.

A court order has also frozen the assets of Progress Press.

Licari was represented by lawyer Roberto Montalto. Inspectors Anne Marie Xuereb, Joseph Xerri, Ian Camilleri, and Lianne Bonello prosecuted together with AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici, Andrea Zammit and Sean Xerri de Caro.

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Allegations date between 2013 and March 2019 but the details revealed in court were sparse.

The arraignments follow previous charges filed against several people last month, including former Allied Group managing director Vincent Buhagiar and former chief of staff of the prime minister Keith Schembri.

Police have also launched extradition proceedings for Rizzo’s predecessor Adrian Hillman, currently in the UK.

Last month, a court heard claims Schembri paid around US$5.5 million in backhanders to Buhagiar and Hillman as part of a multi-million euro deal to purchase printing machines from his company Kasco.

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