“Each village has its usurers”

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Every town and village has its loan shark, and they will be easy to find because the community knows who they are, argued Father John Avellino in a discussion of 103 Heart of Malta.

Father Avellino, founding member of the Caritas foundation for victims of usury, spoke by telephone in Andrew Azzopardi’s last issue of 103 when he stressed the omnipresence of the phenomenon.

“If I wanted to get a quick loan where I live, I know who to talk to,” he said. “Unfortunately, each village has its loan sharks who are known to the community.”

Father Avellino observed that these often presented a friendly brow when first approached, only to begin to impose onerous terms on their “clients” in no time.

“They are very dangerous… they are loan sharks who can be terrifying, who often resort to violence and threats,” he said.

“There is a lot of omertà, but these things keep happening.”

The need for unexplained patrimonial orders

The discussion also saw the participation of Louis Bellizzi, a retired accountant who now volunteers with Caritas to mediate between loan sharks and their victims, as well as the general manager of Fondazzjoni OASI, Noel Xerri.

Both insisted that Malta should introduce a measure, the introduction of which has so far been refused by the government: unexplained makeshift ordinances, whereby property whose origins cannot be justified can be confiscated without quitting. ‘it is necessary to prosecute in criminal proceedings.

“You meet full-time loan sharks living in villas and driving luxury cars while they are registered as unemployed and receiving benefits,” Bellizzi observed. “Unexplained orders of wealth need to be introduced, but beyond that we also need the resources to implement them properly. “

Speaking from personal experience, Bellizzi said, police were often passive in dealing with wear and tear cases, insisting on full documentation – which can be nearly impossible to obtain – before continuing with their investigations.

He argued that police should not expect so much from victims and that at the very least, cases where multiple people report the same loan shark should lead to an investigation.

Until then, the number of wear cases investigated by the police remains quite low. At any one time, however, Caritas is dealing with some 60 to 70 active usury cases, usually from people who have borrowed from multiple people: loan sharks as well as family, friends and colleagues.

The threats that wear and tear victims receive certainly don’t encourage them to come forward: Xerri pointed out that it was difficult for them to believe that someone would help them and that they – or their loved ones – wouldn’t suffer repercussions.

Wear covered by a notarial contract

Given his role as mediator, Bellizzi does not file any police report himself, even if he specifies that the victims of usury are free to continue in this way. Instead, he offers solicitor-client privilege as he seeks to negotiate a means by which victims can realistically settle their debts in manageable installments.

Such an agreement obliges the loan sharks involved to waive any usurious interest rate: under Maltese law, annual interest rates on loans cannot exceed 8%. In general, however, Bellizzi does not offer this rate either.

In the community, however, it is common for loan sharks to ask for repayment within 6 months at 50% interest, or an annual interest rate of 100%. It is also not uncommon for loan sharks to ask for double this amount.

Azzopardi pointed out that such amounts cannot be legally enforced, but Bellizzi replied that it might not be that simple, as there are cases where loan sharks write notarized contracts in which their victims claim to have received an interest-free loan.

These contracts generally state that lenders have loaned the amount they expect to receive, rather than the much less amount they actually loaned: “thus the notary, to some extent, would not know that there was a wear ”.

Bellizzi, however, notes that the way these contracts are drafted usually makes it clear their intention and that they may ultimately make the debt enforceable by law – although magistrates and judges are understandably free to ask questions. ‘they suspect that something is wrong.

The pressures of society and social networks

Xerri and Bellizzi both stressed that usury doesn’t happen in isolation: People turn to pawn shops because of other issues they face. Addictions – especially gambling – may be an obvious example of this, but it is not uncommon for people to apply for such loans in an attempt to save their business from bankruptcy.

Azzopardi questioned whether societal pressure to follow his peers was contributing to the phenomenon, and Bellizzi stressed that the advice Caritas gives to victims of attrition involves shutting down their social media accounts.

“You see people going on weekends or on vacation… and you feel the need to follow along so that you can do the same and upload your own photos,” he observed.

Xerri agreed with the societal pressures, noting how people ended up thinking that nothing was ever enough.

With this in mind, he observed, the therapeutic programs offered by AVSO emphasize the need to find purpose in life and the fact that it is not necessary to live on it. of his means to find him.

“Because everything we do, we do to be happy. “

Bellizzi, meanwhile, stressed that victims of attrition ultimately have to sort out the underlying issues – covering their debts is not enough.

“If you have a leaky hose, you can’t just wipe up the water; you have to fix the leak, ”he noted as an example.


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