Jason Azzopardi recounts seven-year onslaught of anonymous poison-pen letters sent to him, partner

Man accused of sending anonymous poison-pen letters to several politicians, activists and their immediate family is denied bail for a second time by the court

PN MP Jason Azzopardi
PN MP Jason Azzopardi

PN MP and Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi has testified about the fear and psychological toll caused by anonymous hate mail he received on a regular basis, for seven years.

The court refused a second bail request filed by lawyers for the man accused of sending the letters. Magistrate Astrid May Grima heard Azzopardi testify in the compilation of evidence against Joseph Mary Borg, 71, from Valletta.

Borg was arraigned last week and is accused of sending poison-pen letters to the private residences of Opposition MPs Beppe Fenech Adami, Jason Azzopardi and Ryan Callus, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina, as well as newspaper columnist and government critic Prof. Kevin Cassar.

Prosecuting inspectors Kevin Pulis and Kurt Farrugia also accuse Borg of threatening and insulting Aquilina and his brother, PN MP Karol Aquilina. In addition, Borg stands charged with harassing and threatening Karol Aquilina and causing Robert Aquilina to fear violence, threatening MPs during the course of their duties, harassing Prof. Cassar and his wife as well as causing them to fear violence.

“Shortly after 2014 I started to receive regular anonymous letters with a distinctive calligraphy on the envelopes, both at home and at parliament,” Azzopardi told the magistrate. “It was a standing joke with my colleagues. “Għandi Santa oħra’ we’d say.”

Azzopardi said the letters would arrive at regular 3-month intervals and were never typewritten. The address on the envelope would be handwritten, he added.

The MP said he had been in public life for a long time and was used to being insulted but said he had never encountered such clearly researched vitriol.

Azzopardi said he was most hurt by the man’s insults about his deceased parents, who had no involvement with his political life.

“It was clear that whoever was writing took the extra effort to ensure the maximum amount of hurt was inflicted. It didn’t make me angry but very sad and, yes, worried about my safety.”

“My partner would also receive rude and insulting letters about her and her parents, showing that he knew about her parents’ business in Valletta, showing he knew where I was.”

He suggested that political propaganda had influenced the accused. “Above all, there were a lot of words that reflected the lies that I am used to hearing on a particular political party station,” Azzopardi said.

“I don’t know this person from Adam, but it was evident that his writing that he had absorbed the propaganda from the Labour media stations and online trolls. The amount of lies, repeated in these letters, was staggering.”

Azzopardi had spoken to the police about the letters and said he knew he was not alone in having received them, all with a very distinctive way of writing the letter ‘A’ on the envelopes.

The abuse had started in 2014 and continued unabated for seven years, until recently.

The Magistrate asked Azzopardi to specify whether there had been particular threats directed at him.

“If I say there was a threat to blow me up, shoot me and so on, there weren’t. The effect of the content was to let me know that someone was following me and knows where I live. I felt threatened, harassed. It was a textbook definition of a course of conduct. Although nothing expressis verbis, there was so much venom and cruelty, hatred…that someone would take so much of their time to write them disturbed me.”

Azzopardi recalled how PL MP Lino Spiteri had advised him many years ago not to keep the anonymous letters he received as a politician, as keeping them would allow their author to continue to hurt him. He had followed that advice, he said. “I didn’t want to honour the person by keeping them.”

But Azzopardi’s partner Flavia Borg Bonaci had received three such letters at her home, insulting her, her parents and siblings, and showing that the writer knew their movements, Azzopardi said. Although he had convinced her to throw two of them away, she had kept a third, which was handed to the police. “She was very psychologically disturbed by it and very much afraid,” Azzopardi said, adding that she didn’t want to leave her house for a time, knowing she was being followed, such was the climate of fear the letters had created.

“Criticism is one thing, but a person going the extra mile to inflict the maximum amount of psychological damage, is something I have never seen in my public life.”

“The letters [received by Borg Bonaci] are the same and criticise the fact that I am the lawyer for the Caruana Galizia family and assist Repubblika and civil society. Particularly after October 2017, when [Caruana Galizia] was murdered, I definitely remember there were words of hatred,” Azzopardi recalled. More abuse followed after he had criticised Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat, said the MP.

Cross examination was reserved by the defence.

Inspector Kevin Pulis, prosecuting, exhibited a copy of the audio-visual statements released by the accused to the police on 23 and 24 November. “They were taken after all his legal rights were given to him and he had refused to be assisted by a lawyer while the police took them,” said the inspector.

Defence lawyer Henry Antoncich asked the inspector whether as a state of fact, the accused had not been assisted during his statements. “Yes, he had waived that right. He was told four or five times that he had a right to be accompanied by a lawyer of his choosing, but refused.”

Borg had cooperated with the police, added the inspector.

A bail request filed earlier was also discussed in court today, with Inspector Pulis arguing that the prosecution’s position had not changed since the arraignment. “There are a large number of victims and witnesses, this is not the fault of the prosecution or the court,” said the inspector, pointing out that while the police had collected documentary evidence relating to the crimes, other evidence – of harassment and course of conduct had to be heard viva voce by the court.

The letters had been sent to the personal residential addresses of the victims, reminded the prosecutor, explaining that the court would see that he had access to their details.

On his part, defence lawyer Joseph Calleja insisted that all the evidence had been “completely preserved” and accused the prosecution of wanting the accused to remain in custody until the case was decided. “There are mechanisms to enforce bail conditions,” he said, stating that “the other side is objecting more for a punitive reason, to see him in prison.”

Inspector Pulis rebutted this claim, pointing out that there were 28 witnesses yet to testify. “I didn’t say he should be incarcerated until the case is decided.”

The court, after hearing the submissions on bail, refused the request as a substantial number of civilian witnesses are yet to testify in this case.

The case will continue in December with the testimony of Repubblika president Robert Aquilina.