Grocer charged with €25,000 fraud and misappropriation was physically attacked, court told

Man has been accused of defrauding a total of €25,000 from at least five persons

A greengrocer who was threatened and physically attacked on Saturday, has been accused of defrauding a total of €25,000 from at least five persons.

Noel Bonello, 42, stopped just short of admitting the charges when he was arraigned before magistrate Charmaine Galea on charges of fraud, misappropriation and recidivism, by inspectors Wayne Camilleri and Sean Pawney on Wednesday afternoon. The man had allegedly targeted at least five people, some of them elderly.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Noel Bezzina, representing the accused, initially informed the court that the accused was prepared to admit the charges, as long as it orders a pre-sentencing report. The presiding magistrate made it clear that she had already given him probation for near-identical charges three years ago and was not inclined to do so again.

“This court gives a chance once, but only once,” warned the magistrate, adding that he faced between two and nine years in prison, if he pleaded guilty.

After consulting with his legal counsel, Bonello entered a not guilty plea. The defence requested bail, which was objected to by the prosecution, as he was likely to try to approach the victims and attempt to suborn them or tamper with evidence.

Debono argued that normally a pre-sentencing report is given, before the punishment is mentioned. In this case the court was aware of factors which weren’t in the acts of this case, he said, also requesting a social inquiry report.

The lawyer argued that the man would pay the money back, before his sentence is handed down.

“He should not be condemned for something which he had already been punished for. He cooperated with the police and he started repaying the victims – he paid €5,000, one-fifth of the amount due. Should he not have bail supervision? If he is not going to work, he will find It harder to repay the money,” added the lawyer.

The prosecution explained that they had received anonymous information which led them to confirm that Bonello had been physically attacked on Saturday, in connection with the fraud and had repaid the €5,000 the day after. It is understood that he also received death threats.

“The amount was paid, not voluntarily, but because some people were engaged to blackmail and attack him. The police were investigating this crime separately,” Inspector Camilleri said.

Debono argued that the man’s criminal record consisted of a conditional discharge and a €23 fine.

The court upheld his request for bail, ordering Bonello to stay at a secondary address, as his current landlord was one of the prosecution’s witnesses. The press was prohibited from publishing the locality in question, to protect the man's safety.

Bonello was also ordered to sign a bail book three times a week, observe a curfew and secure his release with a €2,000 deposit and a personal guarantee of €10,000.