A WhatsApp conversation between former MGA manager Jason Farrugia and gaming consultant Iosif Galea hinted that someone “within the police force” had been notified to ensure no action would be taken if investigators were sniffing the alleged data breach to the authority.
It was one of the snippets of information leaked in court on Monday when charges continued against former technical director Jason Farrugia and his wife Christine, who were accused of money laundering.
Farrugia faces separate charges for allegedly disclosing confidential information to former authority official Galea, extortion, accepting bribes, fraud, embezzlement, influence peddling and computer misuse.
Last week the court heard one of the prosecutors testify that Galea allegedly wired Farrugia some €130,000 and issued a number of checks in favor of Farrugia and his wife, bringing the total to around €170,000.
Farrugia’s wife later told police that she had no idea of these financial dealings and did not even know Galea.
The alleged data breach first came to light in November following an article published by quarter news on direct orders to the MGA, showing a copy of an invoice received by the authority.
This story raised alarm bells and CEO Carl Brincat immediately ordered an internal investigation which revealed that Farrugia had accessed and downloaded data when he had no reason to.
When confronted, Farrugia had come up with an excuse for storage difficulties that didn’t seem “credible,” Brincat said in testimony Monday.
Farrugia, who at the time was working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was suspended and his online accounts were disabled to block his access to MGA data.
As technical director, responsible for safeguarding the authority’s information and improving its systems, Farrugia had access to all the information.
On December 9, the same day he was suspended, Brincat sent a driver to pick up the laptop and work tower from Farrugia’s home and he was told his access was blocked.
However, there were other attempts to access the system from a Melita address registered to Christine Farrugia.
The judicial inquiry is launched
MITA and the police were enlisted and a masterful investigation was launched.
On December 18, a computer expert commissioned by the investigating judge reported that he had discovered a WhatsApp conversation on Farrugia’s phone between him and Galea.
These messages seemed to indicate that the two were planning affairs together.
There were messages asking if “emails sent in the morning had been saved” and suggestions “to plan all possible options” in case Farrugia was “fired”.
“Confirm with police if MGA requested the laptop,” read one of those messages, according to cybercrime inspector Marcus Cachia who also took the witness stand on Monday.
“They are talking to someone from inside the body not to continue,” read another message, adding that “he already gave this one something.”
Investigators later found that someone had remotely erased all of Farrugia’s data, Cachia said, explaining that this was possible through an app operated by the cellphone owner.
Interviewed in January while on police bail, Farrugia confirmed he had known Galea for a long time but chose not to answer questions.
Galea confirmed that the WhatsApp chat was due to the two planning affairs together.
Galea was also placed on bail by the police.
Data postdated to 2013
One of the USB drives found in Galea’s possession contained data from after 2013, when Galea stopped working at the MGA.
On one occasion in December, Farrugia performed 693 downloads, followed by another 641 the next day, and passed the data to Galea who sent Farrugia substantial sums of money via Revolut and checks.
In their WhatsApp chat, Galea asked Farrugia if he did a We Transfer and Farrugia responded by sending a screenshot of that transaction.
Defense lawyer Alfred Abela pointed out that all the witness could confirm was the recording of such a transfer, but could not say its contents or who the recipient was.
The court also heard from MITA’s head of security and operations, Reuben Gauci, testifying that MITA received a formal request to provide the digital evidence needed to assist forensic experts on December 16, 2021.
All online data and recoverable items relating to Farrugia’s mailbox, including email logs, Microsoft Exchange, and incoming and outgoing messages over a six-month period, have been made available.
MITA also explained that on December 9, there was a “self-service password reset” relating to Farrugia’s account and that was how Farrugia temporarily regained access to his work account. “blocked”.
This is how Farrugia’s online business continued after its suspension, the court heard.
At the end of Monday’s hearing, the court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, said there was enough prima facie evidence for Farrugia and his wife to stand trial.
The case continues next month.
Inspector Cachia and Superintendent Frank Anthony Tabone are prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyer Francesco Refalo. Attorneys Mario Buttigieg and Alfred Abela were Farrugia’s defense attorneys. Attorney Lennox Vella was defense counsel for Farrugia’s wife.
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