VALLETTA: The acquittal on match fixing charges of two former U-21 Maltese national football team players has been overturned on appeal

Local media in Malta have reported on the legal volte-face in the cases of Kyle Cesare, 22, and Emanuel Briffa, 23.

Last month the pair were suspended for life by the European football federation’s control, ethics and disciplinary board even though they had originally been cleared by a Maltese court of association for the purpose of committing a crime and of bribery of players.

A teammate turned whistleblower had alleged they had been bribed to fix the Malta-Montenegro European championship qualifier match played on 23 March 2016.

Magistrates had cleared the two footballers of the charges in August 2016, ruling that the young players were immature and that their judgment had been clouded by peer and social pressure. They had acted under “an extraneous force which they could not resist”.

But at the Court of Appeal Judge Giovanni Grixti said there was no evidence to support the first court’s conclusion, pointing out that even the accused’s lawyers had not taken up this line of defence.

The Court said it failed to understand how the Magistrates’ Court could have safely reached its conclusion when “evidence, even if indicative, was unequivocal and pointed in one direction.”

The two players had not reported the approach to the authorities, rather had held two other meetings and had formulated a plan to lose the match. This plan, in itself, was sufficient to constitute the crucial element of the offence, which the first court had said was missing.

In view of this, the Attorney General’s appeal was upheld, and the earlier judgment revoked. The judge declared the two footballers guilty of the charges, handing them two-year conditional discharges as they are first-time offenders.