Private eye engaged by journalist to spy on ex-wife is jailed

A man has been jailed for acting as an unlicensed private investigator on behalf of a former Times of Malta columnist and Shift News journalist

Alfred Attard, 48, from St Paul’s Bay, has been jailed by the Gozo Court of Magistrates for acting as an unlicensed private investigator on behalf of journalist Victor Paul Borg.

Attard was also accused of harassing Borg's estranged wife and lawyer Kevin Mompalao and his family.

Borg was most recently a freelance journalist for the Times of Malta and The Shift News.

Attard was charged with acting as a private guard without a licence.

The court had to appoint a legal aid lawyer for Attard after his previous lawyer, the second one he had engaged in the course of the proceedings, had renounced the brief, citing lack of cooperation on the accused’s part.

The court heard how the case had started after Mompalao filed a criminal complaint against the accused and Borg, accusing Attard of acting as an unlicensed private investigator and harassing him.

Investigations had revealed that Attard had been engaged by Borg to follow the movements of Borg’s estranged wife. Attard had discovered that she was spending an amount of time at Mompalao’s residence and had the evidence to prove it.

Attard had compiled a report which was exhibited by Borg in his separation proceedings. The report, however, also indicated that Attard had been following the ex-wife and Mompalao’s movements for some time. This was confirmed by the police investigation as well as in the testimony given by Victor Paul Borg both in separate proceedings against him as well as in the case at hand, noted the court.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud heard Inspector Bernard Charles Spiteri testify that the police had acted on a criminal complaint filed by Mompalao and had learned that the accused had been engaged as a private investigator during separation proceedings in order to obtain evidence that Borg’s wife was lying when she claimed that she was unemployed.

Attard had admitted to the police that he had been engaged to do this by Borg and that he had no licence to carry out private investigator work.

Borg’s ex-wife testified that she had been followed by the accused and her ex-husband. “He used to follow with the car, follow behind me and say who I am going to... who is my friend, or who I am going to talk to, or who I am going to meet... I do not know who he is. But after he came to the Court, they say he is a private investigator.” She said Attard had followed her to her friend’s house and knocked on the door pretending to be lost whilst taking photos of her with a hidden camera.

Victor Paul Borg had also testified, telling the court that he had told Attard to follow the woman’s movements over a four-day period while their daughter was with Borg. Borg told the court that Attard had passed on the footage, photos and a logbook of the woman’s movements.

The court heard Mompalao testify to having been the woman’s lawyer in her separation case from Borg. He told the court that when his wife was pregnant, the woman would go to his house to help with the cleaning. Although she was never paid for this, there were other ways in which appreciation was shown, he said.

Attard himself had admitted to having worked as a private detective in a separate case in 2017.

A police representative informed the court that there was no record of Attard holding a licence as a private guard.

Magistrate Joe Mifsud, in his judgment on the case, said that there was no doubt that the law linked the services of a private investigator with the definition of a private guard and that this activity required a licence. "It is only the licence issued under this Act which transforms into the service of a private investigator… conduct which otherwise constitutes harassment, stalking and other violations of data protection."

Attard’s following of the movements of the parte civile constituted a “course of conduct” required for the offence of stalking to also subsist.

In his deliberations on punishment, the magistrate said that it was “shameful that some people exploit the vulnerability of those who are desperate for information because of a situation they had ended up in.”

The court said it could not accept this “disgusting” behaviour which invaded the privacy of another person, following her and filming her movements. “The court cannot fail to act… when the legislator was smart enough to legislate so that nobody is above the law. A case of espionage on a person in their own home or in other places is not acceptable.”

Finding Attard guilty, the court jailed him for six months. A five-year protection order was issued in favour of Mompalao and his family.