A couple accused of stealing over €300,000 from safety deposit boxes at two banks were acquitted on Tuesday after the Larnaca criminal court decided that the single money laundering charge they faced lacked specificity and did not reveal a criminal offence.
Unemployed sign maker Marios Loizou, 37, and his 33-year-old wife Sotira Georgiou were charged with money laundering in connection with the theft of €313,000 in cash and valuables from safety deposit boxes at Solidarity Co-op and the Bank of Cyprus between March 2015 and January 2016.
The trial started in December last year but after hearing five prosecution witnesses, the court raised the question of whether the charge revealed a criminal offence the way it was phrased.
The couple had been charged with acquiring property when they knew or should have known that this constituted the proceeds of committing a predicate offence, a crime that is a component of a more serious offence.
In its decision, the court said the question was whether the predicate offence should be defined in the details of the offence, considering that the prosecution, as it was its right, had chosen to file a money laundering charge only without the corresponding charge on the predicate offence.
According to the law, an essential element of money laundering is that the proceeds should come from the commission of a predicate offence, the court said.
It added that not all criminal offences constitute predicate offences.
During the trial, the defence had asked prosecutors for “better details” of the offence but it never received them, even when the matter was raised by the court.
The prosecution insisted “that is not necessary to prove a predicate offence.”
The failure to detail the predicate offence in the particulars of the charge “creates an insurmountable gap regarding whether the predicate offence is punishable with imprisonment in excess of one year or whether it concerns terrorism funding or drugs trafficking, so that it affords the charge substance but also to reveal and substantiate the money laundering offence.”
The court said it was not enough for a charge to refer to a predicate offence in a general and vague manner.
Included on the list of items and services allegedly secured by the ex-defendants were two cars worth €10,000 and €28,000, a motorcycle worth €12,000, a collection of alcoholic drinks valued at €14,600, jewellery valued at €15,600 and a house renovation that cost €10,000.
Police said the break-ins and thefts were carried out by a person who had access to the area when the branches were open.
The 37-year-old suspect was the only individual from the list of customers who had a box at both branches.
There were no security cameras at the time in the rooms where the safety deposits were stored and customers were left alone while accessing their boxes.
His visits coincided with the period the thefts took place, police said.
The suspect allegedly used a special home-made tool, which left little or no sign on the outside of the boxes he opened.