Adrian Hillman charged with money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes; granted bail

Adrian Hillman, the former Allied Newspapers managing director, was charged in court this morning with money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes.

He was granted bail after a sitting which lasted more than three hours.

Hillman arrived back in Malta from the UK on Friday following an extradition request. Upon arrival, he was questioned by police at the Financial Crimes Investigation Department in the presence of his lawyer Stefano Filletti.

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The police said in a statement on Saturday that a man will be charged in relation to ongoing criminal proceedings against several other individuals.

The police statement did not identify Hillman by name.

“These investigations are related to the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry over which criminal proceedings have already been started against a number of people and companies,” the police statement read.

Hillman faced charges of money laundering and graft linked to the purchase of printing machines by the Allied Group when he was managing director.

An investigation has revealed how Hillman received €650,000 from former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, who owns the company Kasco that supplied the printing press. But testimony given by police suggests that Hillman could have received some €1 million in unexplained payments through offshore companies.

Earlier this year, the police charged 11 people, including Schembri and Vince Buhagiar, another former managing director at Allied Newspapers, on multiple counts of money laundering, forgery, fraud and corruption.

Charges were also filed against Schembri’s business partners and his accountants, Brian Tonna and Karl Cini from Nexia BT.

The owners of MFSP, renamed Zenith Finance, were also charged for handling the investment accounts of Hillman and Buhagiar through which the alleged graft money flowed.

The prosecution against Hillman is led by inspectors Joseph Xerri and Lianne Bonello. They are aided by AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici, Andrea Zammit and Sean Xerri de Caro.

Hillman will appear before Magistrate Doreen Clarke.

, Adrian Hillman charged with money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes; granted bail

13:30 Hillman’s bail was secured by a €50,000 deposit and €100,000 personal guarantee.

13:27 All of Hillman’s assets, bar the €13,000 are frozen as are his companies. He is not allowed to transfer any property

13:25 Under the freezing order Hillman will only be allowed to access around €13,000 of his funds. He is ordered to reside at his sister’s residence in Swieqi.

13:19 The court upholds the bail request and imposes a freezing order on Hillman’s assets and the assets of the two companies.

13:01 Hillman is accused of money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, defrauding Progress Press, making fraudulent gain, making a false declaration to a public authority and accepting bribes as a managing director of Allied Newspapers and Chairman of Progress Press

12:10 The magistrate suspends the sitting to deliberate on the bail submissions.

12:09 AG lawyer Antoine Agius Bonniċi says in cases of money laundering, the presumption is that all assets are considered as forming part of the proceeds of crime.

12:07 However, the prosecution is having none of this. It insists that the freezing order should apply to all assets.

12:06
 Defence lawyer Stefano Filletti insists that the prosecution cannot say that civilian witnesses are still to testify without indicating who they are. He also makes a request for the freezing order to be limited to the period under consideration. “Adrian Hillman had been working even before he joined Allied Newspapers,” Filletti says.

12:04 The prosecution rebuts the arguments. The AG lawyer points out that Hillman went to England around the same time that the attachment order was issued. “Why didn’t he contact Maltese police rather than inform the police in England?”

The prosecution notes that the charges show how Hillman had breached the trust of the company he worked with. The prosecution says civilian witnesses still need to testify, which is why the prosecution fears tampering of evidence.

The prosecution also wants Hillman’s and his companies’ assets to be frozen.

11:53 The defence closes its bail submissions.

11:52 The defence is arguing that the evidence is already preserved in the acts of the inquiry. Civilian witnesses have also testified in other proceedings and would render themselves liable to perjury if they changed their version. The lawyer says that Hillman has already tasted prison because a bail request was denied in the UK.

Filletti points out that Hillman’s three relatives – his father, mother and sister – were ready to go to prison and risk their money to act as guarantors. He says that of need be, Hillman will sign the bail book at the police station once or even twice to be constantly under supervision.

11:40 The sitting continues and Filletti continues with his bail arguments. The lawyer insists that if the police investigation is not over it should not be his client who pays the price by spending time in jail until the investigation is concluded. He also refers to similar procedures initiated against other people in front of Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech and who were granted bail, eventually.

11:35 The magistrate takes a call and the sitting is temporarily suspended.

11:34 QUICK RECAP: Adrian Hillman has been charged with money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes. He returned to Malta yesterday after an extradition request. The prosecution and defence are making submissions on bail. The prosecution is objecting, insisting there is the fear of absconding and tampering with evidence. The defence is arguing that Hillman is a British citizen and his transfer to the UK last September was not an escape. The defence says that Hillman has cooperated and given that the case revolves around actions that happened several years ago, there is no fear of tampering with evidence.

11:31 Filletti adds that this decision was taken in spite of there being mistakes in the Maltese request which he could have contested his extradition on successfully. “Hillman had indicated he had assets and several properties in Malta to the police yesterday. With all due respect there is no risk. He has a clean criminal record,” Filletti argues.

11:29 He adds that on 30 March Hillman had surrendered himself to the UK police. Filletti says that post-Brexit legislation was still being formulated at the time.

In his first sitting in court in the UK, Hillman was faced with the order of return. But had not been given a copy of all the paperwork. The case was put off once.

“After he saw the charges for the first time, at the first opportunity, he gave himself up and signed a consent form. Is this behaviour of a person causing trouble?”

11:23 The defence lawyer says that the moment the Maltese police showed interest in Hillman to the UK police, procedures were triggered. “The British police issue an order at the points of exit of the country and he is placed on the wanted list. From that moment, he could not come to Malta so he engaged a lawyer,” Filletti says.

11:20 Hillman had refused to answer questions yesterday upon arrival in Malta. However, his lawyer insists that the police were speaking to him after having already made the decision to charge him. “Yesterday, anything he said would have been pointless as the decision was already taken to prosecute. Where in the Criminal Code is there a positive obligation on people to come forward and speak? The police wanted him yesterday not to speak to him but to charge him,” Filletti insists.

11:17 The lawyer continues with his submissions. He argues that had Hillman opted for silence the prosecution could say that he refused to be heard but this was not the case. “So, Adrian Hillman should have known that they were looking for him, should have camped outside court to speak to the magistrate or outside the depot to speak to the police?”

11:15 Filletti: “So, from 2017 to 2020, nobody sends for him. During the whole investigation and the magisterial inquiry, we hear that it was possible that he committed a crime. So, you have all this doubt and you don’t send for him?”

11:13 The lawyer says that nobody arrested Hillman back then.

11:13 Filletti insists that there is no evidence Hillman escaped. “Rather, he gave a reason. His wife had a fellowship, while he lost his job. This was a result of testimony in court. It is impossible for him to find work today as everyone on the internet knows Adrian Hillman by now… What the police didn’t say was that Hillman did return to Malta in October to visit family. The truth is that nobody wanted to hear his version,” Filletti says.

11:10 Filletti points out that the alleged acts had not happened yesterday, but started in 2005. “This is 15, 16 years ago. Why the urgency? He was waiting in Malta to be charged until last September. They think that Hillman escaped… I don’t think that the UK is where you go to escape. The newspapers knew his address but somehow the police didn’t. A British citizen went to his country. He didn’t escape.”

11:07 Filletti continues: “Liberty is the rule and arrest and restriction of bail is the exception. This means that the onus of proof is on the prosecution for the exception to be triggered. Failing this, the default position should be bail.”

11:05 Filletti replies: “It is a fact that bail should not be requested by the defence, but it should be the prosecution, which morally convinces the court that the defendant should not be given bail.”

11:04 AG lawyer Antoine Agius Bonnici says there is also the fear of tampering with evidence. “Hillman has many contacts in Malta and can interfere with evidence. The charges are very serious,” the lawyer says.

11:03 The prosecution says that Hillman had never informed the Maltese police that he was available to return here. The prosecution says two bail requests were refused in the UK and it was at this point that Hillman accepted to come to Malta. “The fact that he had not made contact with the police over the past eight months raises the fear that he would not cooperate and would abscond. His life is abroad and has little ties to Malta,” the prosecution argues.

10:59 Filletti presents a copy of the formal extradition request by Malta to the UK. The parties will now be making submissions on bail.

10:56 Hillman’s sister, Geraldine Naudi, also tells the court that she is willing to act as guarantor for her brother.

10:55 She sits down and Adrian Hillman reaches over and takes her hand in his briefly.

10:54 Hillman’s mother, Irene Hillman, now takes the stand. The same questions are asked to the woman.

10:51 The lawyer explains the consequences of acting as a guarantor for Hillman, including the possibility of jail if conditions are breached. Colin Hillman responds: “Yes, I am willing to act as a guarantor.”

10:50 Colin: “My son has dual nationality.”

Filletti: “So, he is also a British subject?”

Colin: “Yes.”

10:48 Hillman’s elderly father is summoned to testify, for the purpose of bail. Colin Hillman takes the stand and is administered the oath.

10:48 Hillman had given himself up to the police in England and said he was voluntarily surrendering to be extradited to Malta.

10:43 Filletti shows the inspector correspondence between the UK police force and Hillman’s UK lawyers. The inspector says they had never been brought to his attention before now.

10:43 An attachment order was issued in March, but was effectively notified to the accused yesterday, upon his arrival in Malta.

10:42 Hillman refused to answer questions because he had said that since the arrest warrant was issued it meant that the decision to prosecute was already taken and so there was no point in him answering questions, says the inspector.

10:42 The inspector says that the first time they tried to speak to him was 7 March. Hillman told him that he had moved to the UK because his wife had a fellowship to teach there and his children had a language barrier in Malta.

10:40 Inspector Joseph Xerri takes the oath. Filletti points out that the charges deal with the period 2005-2019. This was subject to a magisterial inquiry that started in 2017. The date of the arrest warrant is 5 March 2021. The lawyer asks: “Between 2017 and 2021 did you try to speak to Hillman?”

10:36 Filletti summons the inspector to the stand.

10:35 Filletti makes it clear that although the charges were taken as read, this doesn’t mean that the rule of speciality is being renounced to if it is applicable. He requests bail for his client.

10:34 He is asked what the companies plead. Hillman doesn’t recall the Cyprus address of Networks Overseas Ltd or Lester Holdings. Both companies plead not guilty.

10:31 Hillman is 56 and is living in the UK. He gives his profession as “right now self-employed”. He pleads not guilty.

10:28 Filletti reverses his previous position and says he will not be contesting the validity of the arrest in view of the presentation of the warrant. The court asks Hillman to stand up and will ask him his details.

10:27 Defence lawyer Stefano Filletti asks if the inspector has a copy of the arrest warrant. This is exhibited.

10:26 Four Maltese police officers went to Heathrow and took custody of Hillman and flew him to Malta. A statement was taken where he refused to answer questions.

10:25 Xerri tells the court that when the police went to execute an arrest warrant at his home in Swieqi, he was found to have emigrated to the UK. This led to an international arrest warrant being issued. Xerri says Hillman was arrested in England and denied bail twice pending extradition.

10:24 Xerri says that a magisterial inquiry into corruption between Hillman and Keith Schembri, the former OPM chief of staff and owner of Kasco Group, found enough evidence for charges to be filed on fraud and money laundering.

10:22 Inspector Joseph Xerri takes the stand.

10:20 The charges are against Hillman personally and as a representative of Network Overseas Ltd and Lester Holdings.

10:17 Magistrate Doreen Clarke emerges and the sitting begins. Filletti says he will be making submissions on the validity of the arrest after the preliminaries are finished.

10:17 Adrian Hillman is escorted into the courtroom. He is sitting to attention.

10:16 Inspectors Joseph Xerri and Lianne Bonello are prosecuting. Lawyers Andrea Zammit, Sean Xerri De Caro and Antoine Agius Bonnici from the AG are assisting the police. Lawyer Stefano Filletti is defence counsel with Mark Refalo, Maurice Meli and Nicole Galea assisting.

10:02 Hillman is expected to be charged with money laundering, fraud and other financial crimes. His arraignment is part of a wider probe that led to several people and companies being charged with various financial crimes.

10:00 The courthouse is quiet and Adrian Hillman has not yet arrived.

09:58 Good morning.

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