Italian fugitive in Naxxar shooting connected to Qormi arson

Arson suspects denied bail as court hears that mastermind still at large

Damiano Torrisi is sought by the police over a shooting that took place in 2015 in Naxxar
Damiano Torrisi is sought by the police over a shooting that took place in 2015 in Naxxar

Two men have been remanded in custody after they were charged with setting a shop on fire in August.

Officers from the Arsons Unit within Major Crimes arrested the two men and arraigned them before magistrate Victor Axiaq this morning.

Police said the men were identified through CCTV camera footage as being the individuals who set fire to a shop in Triq Hammieri, Qormi, on 29 August.

First to be arraigned was 48-year-old Brookes Lia, assisted by lawyer Mario Mifsud. Lia has been jailed in 2008 for 13 years after he was found guilty of the attempted murder of a woman who was dumped in a car park near San Gwann after taking a heroin overdose in 2001.

Inspectors Jeffrey Scicluna, Mario Xiberras and Roderick Agius prosecuted.

Lawyers Karl Micallef, Edward Debono appeared for the parte civile. Debono asked the court that the name of the shop was allegedly damaged, and victim is not named in the media. The other parties did not object to this request, which the court proceeded to uphold.

Inspector Scicluna told the court on 29 August; the police were informed that a florist’s front door was on fire. Traces of a plastic jerrycan were found on the site, so the police suspected it was arson. CCTV helped the police identify the accused, whose mobile phone localisation data also put him at the scene at the time of the offence.

Lia, of Qawra, who told the court that he worked as a driver with St. Paul’s Bay local council, pleaded not guilty to the charges. Bail was requested.

The prosecution objected to bail due to the fear of the accused tampering with evidence, as investigations were ongoing to identify the mastermind. Lia’s tainted criminal record included arson, said the prosecution.

“I take nothing away from the gravity of the offence,” Defence lawyer Mario Mifsud said, “but I get sceptical when this man’s statement was more detailed than that of St Augustine. We are telling the criminal in the street not to cooperate with the police as it is for nothing.” Mifsud added that there were also detailed CCTV footage, vehicles and localisation data which the accused could not tamper with.

“His criminal conduct is always going to be the same; it cannot change. There can be guarantees. It’s like there is a sacred law that whenever the defence requests bail, the prosecution must object,” complained the lawyer.

Why should we send him to prison? The message should be ‘cooperate with the police, and they will help you,’ not come to court and stitch you up.”

The victim’s lawyer Edward Debono told the court that “he cooperated as he was caught. If he wants to cooperate, he should say who sent him and his friend.”

Mifsud pointed out that Debono had no locus standi and asked how his client could tell the police if he didn’t know who had sent him.

Bail was denied as the investigation was at a very early stage, and there was a serious fear of tampering with evidence.  The court could not ignore his past, said the magistrate.

Second, to be arraigned was Damiano Alfio Ranissi Torissi, 43, assisted by lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Keith Borg.

Azzopardi objected to the parte civile’s request for a ban on the publication of the victim’s names as this had no basis in law. The court upheld the request, however.

Inspector Scicluna explained that the location data showed that the accused man’s mobile phone and that of the previous accused had moved together in tandem on the night, up till the time the arson took place.

Torissi did not reply to any of the court’s questions - not even to confirm his name. His lawyer entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

Torissi had been a suspect in a shooting incident that took place in Triq Burmarrad in Naxxar on 12 December 2017.

Bail was not requested.