Lost in translation: 2 acquitted of trying to ‘cash’ $1.5m at Lombard Bank

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Two men who came to Malta to find out whether the bearer bond certificates they had in their possession were authentic or otherwise were acquitted of charges of fraud on Monday.

The two men from Moscow turned up at Lombard Bank in Valletta on 12 June at around 10.10am, and showed a bearer bond certificate to the bank employee. The Bank manager had immediately suspected that something was wrong with the certificate that was shown and flagged it up with the bank’s CEO. Action was immediately taken with the police being called in as it was understood that the men had come to cash a $1.5 million certificate. The men had a total of four certificates, which would total up to $6 million.

The men were accused of making use of falsified documents and of being in possession of documents with which they intended to commit fraud.

In a court presided over by Magistrate Joe Mifsud it was found that the men were trying to find out whether the documents which were in their possession were authentic or otherwise. It was also found that they had tried to contact the bank prior to turning up at the bank.

The court noted that while one of the men spoke no English, the other had a very limited use of the language with the court observing that it was clear that there was a “serious communication problem” between the bank, police and the accused. This was said in reference to the testimony given by the bank manager who said that one of the men had used the word “encash”.

Prosecuting Police Inspector Christabelle Chetcuti told the court that a report was filed about two Russian men seeking to cash $1.5 using forged documents, while they had presented one such document to the bank, they had a total of four bearer bond certificates.

Lombard Bank’s manager told the court that such bearer bonds had been out of circulation for more that thirty years. He had added that such format was never used by the bank while the bank’s logo on the alleged certificates was quite recent.

The bank’s Chief Executive Officer Joseph Said said that he noticed straightaway that something was wrong with the certificates, as he noticed that they had the same serial number.

One of the men told the police that his friend’s son had approached him with the documents. He then roped in his friend whose partner works at a bank. It was his friend’s partner that wrote to the bank asking for further details as she tried to verify the bearer bond certificates’ authenticity. A bank employee had told the his friend’s partner to send a scanned copied to his personal email address, she had refused and sent it on the bank’s official email.

The police had found that various calls were made to the bank from a number with a Russian country code on the days the accused had mentioned.

Immediately flagged by the bank

The bank manager had told the court that he immediately suspected that something was wrong upon seeing the bearer bond certificate and went straight to the the CEO.

While bearer bond certificates can be used to pay something, the manager told the court that one would be stupid to accept a $1.5 million certificate without doing the necessary checks.

He added that the bank dismissed the email as phishing.

The expert appointed by the court, observed that for a document to be forged there has to be a true existing one to copy, therefore if the original document does not exist then it was created.

The court found that the accused had tried multiple times to contact the bank in order to find out more about the certificates, observing that searching for more information could not be considered on par as using a forged document.

The court also noted that the limited knowledge of the language by one of the accused, saying it could not be considered as English.

The two men were acquitted of the charges brought against them. The court ordered the destruction of the bearer bond certificates.

Police Inspector Christabelle Chetcuti prosecuted while lawyer Arthur Azzopardi appeared for the accused.