Coronavirus cited as motive behind betting shop 'hold-up'

The court heard how the men, who pleaded guilty in this morning's sitting, had been facing severe financial hardship after the COVID-19 crisis

Michael Borg and Lian Arena pleaded guilty to charges
Michael Borg and Lian Arena pleaded guilty to charges

The coronavirus crisis was cited as the reason behind an armed robbery this week, as two hapless thieves were given suspended sentences following their botched attempt at staging a hold-up.

Michael Borg 42 from Gzira and 32  year-old Lian Arena of Attard were both arrested on Friday, after Arena had called the police to report that he had been robbed at knifepoint.

Arena, who had been a manager at Izibet, had told officers that a knife-wielding man on a motorcycle had robbed him of the shop’s takings – some €18,000 as he was carrying it to his car.

But investigators soon smelled a rat and, after watching CCTV footage of the alleged incident, arrested both men.

It emerged that Arena had agreed to pretend to have been held up by Borg. He had reported the theft and had even given police a description of the motorcycle used. Searches in a various garages and other properties returned the motorcycle used in the crime, with the vast majority of the cash still hidden inside it.

Before magistrate Doreen Clarke this morning, the pair were charged with criminal conspiracy, aggravated theft and tampering with evidence.

They pleaded guilty.

In submissions on punishment, Inspectors Fabian Fleri, Mario Xiberras and Lydon Zammit, prosecuting, disclosed to the court that the men had cooperated with the police investigation and had confessed.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb for Borg and lawyer Joe Giglio for Arena told the court that the men had been facing severe financial hardship after the COVID-19 crisis. Borg, who owned a water sports shop had suffered a crippling loss of income which drove him to commit the desperate act, his lawyers said.

The men were handed sentences of 2 years imprisonment, suspended for 4 years and ordered to refund €2000 each. The rest of the stolen cash was returned after being found in the motorcycle.

Inspectors Fabian Fleri, Mario Xiberras and Lydon Zammit prosecuted. Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb appeared on behalf of Borg. Lawyers Joe Giglio and Sarah Mifsud defended Arena. 

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