Qormi car arson 'mastermind' still on the loose, court told

Two men have been remanded in custody charged with setting a car on fire, however, the 'mastermind' is still on the loose

Two men have been denied bail on charges of setting a car on fire last week, as the court heard suggestions that an unidentified third man may have been the mastermind.

Truck driver 24-year-old Nurton Borg, from Gzira represented by lawyer Joe Giglio, was accused of criminal damage and the arson of a Ford Transit in Triq Tumas Fenech Qormi on 22 January.

In a separate arraignment, 18-year-old Luca Emanuele Corito, represented by lawyer Kathleen Grima, was accused of complicity in the offence. He was also accused of driving without a licence, insurance and with a violation of the Arms Act after a single round of 9mm ammunition was found in his car.

Inspectors Mario Xiberras, Jeffrey Scicluna and Kevin Pulis arraigned the two men before magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras on Wednesday.

Pulis told the court how the police major crimes unit had collaborated with other sections of the police and managed to identify the car used to transport the arsonist.

Luca Corito was apprehended first, said the inspector. Police suspect that three persons were inside the car, Corito among them, but that the person who set the car on fire was Nurton Borg, the court was told.

Giglio told the court that Borg was pleading guilty to the arson although under a different law to that specified in the charges. What he was contesting was that the fire could have spread to other property, said the lawyer.

There are witnesses who would have to testify to the damage. Some people had their carpets catch fire, others suffered damage to windows, said, Pulis. The magistrate declared that the court could not sentence the accused on an admission in parte and would have to let the case be assigned by rota.

Giglio said that in the course of the investigation which led to Borg’s arrest, he had cooperated and explained to the police that the person who sent him was a person who he owed money to for drugs. The police confirmed this and there was an important corroborating detail which had to do with the buying of the petrol used in the arson.

The lawyer requested bail for his client, but this was strongly opposed by the prosecution, who argued that although two persons were being arraigned, the crime itself was not yet solved. “We aren’t only talking to these two men,” explained inspector Pulis. “There is witness evidence which will be crucial. The investigation showed that the victim had two cars…They had wanted to burn the other car.”

Giglio hit back, however, arguing that Borg knew only the middleman. “The accused knows that the person who sent him is X. If there is someone else behind X the accused has no knowledge of this.

Therefore, the fear of tampering with evidence with regards the accused is phantasmic,” argued the lawyer. The accused had told the police what he knew, but didn’t know why he was told to do it, only that he was going to reduce part of his drug debt, Giglio explained. “The police will say that there are civilian witnesses who will testify that their car was burned. But we are not contesting the fact,” he said.

The court remanded Borg in custody, however, denying bail as the police investigations were still underway and there was still evidence to be gathered. The court warned the prosecution not to take long to do this. A temporary supervision order was also issued for Borg, who has a drug problem.

The second man to be arraigned was Corito, from Senglea.

The court was told that Corito had been arrested first. His lawyer, Kathleen Grima entered a plea of not guilty. She, too, disagreed with the section of the law the charges were made under.

Corito had a clean criminal record, pointed out his lawyer as she requested bail, which was opposed by the prosecution for the same reasons given against Borg.

Grima added that while her client had not admitted and had no interest in doing so, this fact should not place him at a disadvantage. He had given information to the police about the purchase of the accelerant, reminded the lawyer.

Corito didn’t deny being present during the arson, she said, adding that Borg, whose car was being repaired had asked him to give him a lift to a petrol station as his car wasn’t working. It was Corito who indicated to the police which petrol station the fuel had been bought from. While he was in Qormi, he had stopped after the other man wanted to alight from the vehicle, and then the other person had set the victim's car on fire.

Grima also pointed out that Corito didn’t know the victim. “The options are that either he was just giving a lift or that he was a middleman, receiving instructions from another party,” argued the lawyer, pointing out that he could not remain under arrest indefinitely.

Explaining why the police had believed one accused and not the other, Inspector Pulis told the court that the car was set ablaze at around 7:30 or 8pm, but that the petrol had been bought at 6pm.

But Grima countered, saying that by the same argument, one “must be stupid to engage someone else to set a car on fire and then go hold his hand while he does it.”

The Inspector insisted, however, pointing out that the Corito was also driving someone else’s car and had driven the wrong way up a one-way street just to buy petrol. The police had a working theory on this, he said.

Bail was also denied to Corito. The case continues.