Court denies bail to five charged with abducting man in Rabat

Police sources describe the suspects as recidivists

Christian Borg, 28, from Swieqi is one of the five men charged with kidnapping a man in a van
Christian Borg, 28, from Swieqi is one of the five men charged with kidnapping a man in a van

Police have charged five men with having abducted a man and driving off with him in a van last Friday.

Christian Borg, 28, from Swieqi, Thorne Mangion,27, from Qormi, Tyson Grech 26, from Senglea, Burton Azzopardi, 20 from Cospicua and Jeremy Borg, 20 from Qormi

The men were accused of abducting the man in Rabat last Friday. The alleged victim managed to escape from the van as it headed towards Paola, and reported the crime at a nearby police station.

The men were charged together in an after-hours arraignment before duty magistrate Charmaine Galea late on Monday evening. The court denied bail at the end of a three-and-a-half-hour arraignment.

Christian Borg was separately accused of recidivism. Burton Azzopardi was accused of breaching two bail decrees and recidivism. Jeremy Borg was charged with breach of bail, while under suspended sentence and recidivism.

The magistrate’s courtroom was packed with accused, prosecutors and lawyers when the men were arraigned after 7:30pm on Monday.

Inspector Roderick Attard and inspector Sarah Kathleen Zerafa, lawyers Karl Muscat and Francesco Refalo from the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted.

Inspector Attard told the court how on 21 January, the police had received a report from a man who claimed to have been abducted from his garage in Rabat. The victim had told the police that he knew all those who abducted him and that he had worked with one of them.

An arrest warrant was issued for 6 persons and searches were carried out. The accused had subsequently been identified by the alleged victim.

Lawyer Giannella De Marco asked the inspector whether he had received a report about the alleged victim having stolen 6 cars from one of the accused, who he used to work for.

The next day a report was received to this effect at Paola police station, interjected the inspector.

The lawyer asked whether the person was going to be taken to the police station. That did not result, he said. “At this stage the priority was to establish the facts.”

De Marco said it affected the credibility of the alleged victim.

Magistrate said this dealt with the merits. De Marco said he would be misleading the court. Debono posited that the justification of the arrest dealt with the merits.

Sciriha asked the prosecution, what the motive for the kidnap was. “He said that the person had asked him about theft of a van”. Did this trigger a second investigation into that theft, asked Sciriha. The inspector said the case was going to be investigated for sure.

An inquiry had been appointed and the testimony of the alleged victim was preserved. Sciriha asked whether the accused had testified in the inquiry. They hadn’t.

Franco Debono asked about his client’s arrest. From where? What time? He was arrested as he signed his bail book. He was arrested at the request of the court. He could not tell the court the identity of the arresting officers.

Inspector Zerafa stepped in, she had been in a sitting and saw Azzopardi being arrested in court, being handed a copy of the warrant. “I asked them, when I found out it was Burton, for the warrant, and they gave me a copy.”

Debono insisted on the police officers service numbers. The inspector would provide them at a later stage, she said, as she needed to check.

Tyson Grech was arrested yesterday at the Rabat police station, Inspector Roderick Attard said.

Debono said he would be asking whether the requisites of a valid arrest were satisfied, citing a recent court decision listing them.

After referring to his notes, the inspector gave the lawyer the number of the arresting officer, adding that it was recorded on video and that Grech had initially refused the arrest warrant.

Lawyer Jason Grima asked whether Grech and Jeremy Borg had voluntarily gone to the police station. He suggested that the police failed to give Grech his rights.

The inspector denied this, saying the arrest had been carried out according to law.

Grima told the court that he was asking for information but that the investigating officers were presenting them with difficulties. The prosecution said this was not true.

He said he was contesting the validity of the arrest of Grech as the prosecuting officers could not justify it to the court. This created doubt, said the lawyer. If the arrest is not justified there is not even a need to request bail, he said.

Grech had gone to the police station and asked whether he was under arrest and was told that he needed to speak to the inspector.

Nobody had yet justified the arrest of Jeremy Borg, submitted Grima.

For Azzopardi Debono quoted the Criminal Code, “I have not heard them give them the reasons why they had been arrested.” Debono suggested that the requirements laid down by the law were not followed.

The point behind this is to avoid abuse. Even if arrest is obvious there are still requisites that must be satisfied, you must inform them that they are under arrest and inform them of the reasons for their arrest.

“It is the obligation of the prosecution to be prepared for these questions”

De Marco said she was not contesting the validity of Christian Borg’s arrest, but would be asking for bail.

Sciriha contested the validity of Thorn’s arrest, as in his case he had gone to the police station of his own free will and had not been notified that he was under arrest for 2 hours. This rendered the arrest invalid, argued the lawyer.

After the defence’s lengthy submissions, AG prosecutor Karl Muscat said that there was sufficient evidence which was shown to Magistrate Monica Vella who assessed it and decided that there was sufficient reason for the arrest of all the accused.

They were accused and when they were, the police physically handed them a copy of the warrant. “In the warrant itself, the reasons for the arrest are also written.”

They had been given their legal rights, they refused to answer any questions during interrogation. The magistrate was duly informed that the arrest was going to exceed 6 hours. He argued that the arrest was entirely legal.

Sciriha argued that papers were not sufficient, and that there must be an explanation that the accused could understand at the moment that the accused is deprived of his liberty. “The concept of fair trial begins with the moment of arrest,” argued the lawyer.

Grima said that one would expect better from the prosecution of such serious charges especially as they were assisted by the Attorney General.

The court, after hearing the defence’s submissions, declared the arrest of all the accused to be valid and proceeded to the matter of bail.

The men all pleaded not guilty and asked for bail. The prosecution objected to the request, AG lawyer Karl Muscat said the charges were extremely serious. “There was an abduction of a person, this is not a simple holding against one’s will… Abduction with the intention of harm.” They are charged with breaching bail and were untrustworthy.

In addition, if they are released on bail and the victim has not yet testified there is a great risk of one of them approaching the victim to influence his testimony. The victim was to testify within the next few days, he explained. This would be a grave injustice.

Until the victim and all the civilian witnesses involved in this case testify, the prosecution asked that all the accused be remanded in custody.

De Marco argued that the charges did not carry life sentences and were not as serious as it was being made out. Christian Borg, a director of two car leasing companies, only had previous convictions relating to minor infringements relating to car registration and fines. She submitted that the victim had already testified in the magisterial inquiry and did not even need to testify in the compilation of evidence, by law. This person was reported for stealing six cars and is under investigation too, pointed out the lawyer. He employs 48 persons and has every interest in justice being served.

She pointed out that the crime of abduction was still under the part of the criminal code which deals with sexual offences and that there was nothing to show that the person was abducted for sexual reasons.

De Marco argued that the prosecution had not brought any valid reason to refuse bail to her client.

Debono accused the prosecution of clutching at the seriousness of the offence to justify the refusal of bail, which was not a valid ground anyway. Every infringement of the criminal code is serious, Debono argued in his lengthy submissions.

For Thorn, Sciriha, said that what worried him most was that the prosecution seemed to have lumped all the accused into the same charges and that all of them did not deserve bail. Some of them employed people, others had jobs. “The case was so flimsy that the prosecution added a charge dealing with sexual offences.” He, too, argued that the seriousness of the offence was not a valid reason to deny bail.

Thorn was the last person to be arrested and went to the police himself. “How can you say ‘don’t trust him’ then?”

“Here you have people who were robbed, their belongings damaged and their income affected. Let us not paint the parte civile as an angel.” He asked for a balance to be struck between the competing interests of society, the victim and the accused.

Lawyer Jason Grima also submitted that the alleged victim had already testified in the inquiry and was under investigation. His testimony is preserved and is going to come to court and refuse to testify, asking whether this would mean that he would never be granted bail. “They had the option of speaking to the parte civile but instead they opted to go to the police.” The incident was also captured on CCTV, Grima submitted.

Prosecuting lawyer Karl Muscat protested that the defence lawyers were trying to paint a picture of a single witness who is yet to testify who had already testified in the inquiry, but said that there were eyewitnesses at the petrol station where the crime was committed.

Muscat asked the court to bear in mind the threats which the alleged victim was subjected to, but was shouted down by the gaggle of defence lawyers, who shouted that that dealt with the merits of the case.

The magistrate has retired to chambers to give a decree on bail, returning after around 15 minutes.

The court denied bail in view of the gravity of the crime and doubts that they would observe their bail conditions, noting that some of the accused were already accused of breaching bail.

Lawyers Giannella De Marco, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Michael Sciriha appeared for Christian Borg.

Thorn Mangion was represented by lawyers Michael Sciriha and Roberto Spiteri.

Tyson Grech was represented by lawyers Franco Debono, Alex Scerri Herrera and Jason Grima.

Jeremy Borg was assisted by lawyer Jason Grima.

Lawyers Franco Debono Marion Camilleri Francesca Zarb appeared for Burton Azzopardi.