HSBC heist suspect Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ pleads guilty ahead of Koħħu jury trial

HSBC heist suspect Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ will get 10 years in prison after admitting guilt in the 2010 failed hold-up

Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’
Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’

One of three men accused in the botched heist on the HSBC headquarters in 2010 has pleaded guilty.

Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ (unconnected to his namesake implicated in the Operation Dirty Oil smuggling ring) pleaded guilty in court during an urgent sitting held on Wednesday evening.

While his sentence will be handed down tomorrow, Debono is expected to serve 10-and-a-half years in jail as part of a guilty plea deal, with an attempted homicide charge dropped from the accusations. His lawyer is Edward Gatt.

The sensational admission comes right on the eve of the trial by jury of self-confessed hitman Vince Muscat ‘il-Koħħu’, which begins tomorrow, Thursday 6 January. Debono will now testify in the jury as a witness.

The criminal defence lawyers Franco Debono and Robert Montalto will be the defence counsels to Muscat.

Some 65 shots were fire at police who turned up on site and foiled the daring robbery, which had taken full advantage of the general absence of police on duty due to the State visit of the Italian President and an Isle of MTV event.

A police witness, former constable Mario Portelli, would later allege that the lawyer and sacked police inspector David Gatt, had masterminded the heist. The case was never proven in court and Gatt was acquitted. At the time he shared his legal office with former Labour minister Chris Cardona.

Gatt himself had represented Vincent Muscat in court when the latter was granted bail in November 2010 for a botched hold-up on the jeweller Michael Mizzi.

Also implicated in the HSBC heist was Fabio Psaila ‘il-Ġeneral’.

The Criminal Court is also to decree on a request by a former police officer who was shot at during the infamous 2010 HSBC hold up, requesting permission not to testify due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the incident.

Mr. Justice Giovanni Grixti heard submissions made on behalf of former police constable Kenneth Ciangura, who requested that he not be asked to testify before the jury. If upheld, he will not be cross-examined during the trial, and the jury will instead be given copies of his testimony before the lower courts.

Ciangura had already testified during the compilation of evidence in 2010, telling the court how he had gone to investigate a report of a suspicious car near the HSBC Centre in Qormi. As he went up the steps outside the building, three men dressed in suits and wearing wigs were coming down, he said. Finding themselves face to face with the police, the three men had turned abruptly and ran back inside the building.

He said he had been shot at by the robbers as he dashed back to the car. Ciangura had testified that he had fired two warning shots into the air, but when he realised they were shooting at him, he started returning fire.

The constable said he and his colleague told the control room that they were being shot at and called for reinforcements. They then crossed the road and hid behind a parked Daihatsu. Ciangura said he had counted 61 shots during the firefight. He had fired 17, and his colleagues another 14. Ciangura had just one round left in his magazine, the court had heard.

During the firefight, a Kia Sorrento had stopped in front of the bank, and the three suspects jumped inside and escaped.