HSBC heist: Criminal Court must decide on admissibility of Daren Debono evidence, magistrate says

Defence’s request for witnesses on admissibility of Daren Debono’s evidence sent back to Criminal Court

Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ was jailed for 10 and a half years after admitting to his involvement in the HSBC heist in a plea bargain deal
Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ was jailed for 10 and a half years after admitting to his involvement in the HSBC heist in a plea bargain deal

It remains unclear as to whether convicted bank robber Daren Debono ‘it-Topo’ will be allowed to testify against co-accused Vince Muscat, after a magistrate decreed that her court did not have the power to rule on a request for additional witnesses on the admissibility of Debono’s testimony.

Magistrate Monica Vella delivered a decree on the request this morning, noting that the powers of her court were limited to the task given to it by the Criminal Court.

“As a consequence of this, this court cannot decide on the defence’s request to hear other witnesses,” she said in reference to the defence’s arguments that Debono could not testify as he had been interdicted.

Muscat’s defence, lawyers Franco Debono and Robert Montalto, also requested the summoning of former police inspector Norbert Ciappara to confirm Debono’s 20-year interdiction for perjury.

But the magistrate said her court was limited to the task given by the Criminal Court, so it could not decide on the defence’s request to hear other witnesses. “And neither can it make a decision about the plea of inadmissibility of the witness, raised by the defence. However, this court is of the opinion that these points should be examined before it starts to hear the witness and this in view of the accused’s right to a fair hearing, if nothing else.”

The court then sent the acts back to the Criminal Court, “in order to give the defence every opportunity to make its request to summon more witnesses about the perjury proceedings and the sentence relative to the interdiction with regards to the witness and to make the plea of inadmissibility of the witness before the Criminal court.”

The magistrate said there was nothing precluding the Criminal Court from hearing Muscat’s complaint, pointing out that the accused still has the opportunity to exhibit evidence to the contrary, to the jury.

Muscat’s trial for his part in the 2010 botched hold-up of the HSBC headquarters was supposed to start earlier this month, but was derailed by the last-minute admission made by his co-accused by Daren Debonofollowing a plea deal with the prosecution.

Debono was sentenced to imprisonment for ten and a half years and had an attempted murder charge dropped, in return for his testimony in the trial against Muscat, in a deal reached at around 8pm on the eve of the trial.

When the trial was convened, Muscat’s lawyers had vociferously objected to the newly convicted Debono being produced as a prosecution witness. They argued that he had not been heard as part of the compilation of evidence and that this had deprived them of the opportunity to hear what he had to say and prepare their defence accordingly.

The Criminal Court subsequently sent the case back to the Court of Magistrates, so that compilation proceedings could resume and the new witness be heard.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Roberto Montalto are defence counsel to Debono. Lawyer Giannella Busuttil from the Office of the Attorney General and Police Inspector Joseph Mercieca are prosecuting.