Poison pen letters repeated Labour’s ‘traitor’ narrative, Repubblika president tells court

Robert Aquilina said the person who sent the poison pen letters did his research, going beyond simple criticism

Repubblika president Robert Aquilina has told a magistrate hearing evidence against a man accused of sending threatening poison pen letters of the impact the letters had on his family life. 

Aquilina took the witness stand as criminal proceedings against Joseph Mary Borg, 71, from Valletta continued on Monday. 

Borg is accused of sending poison pen letters to the private residences of Opposition MPs Beppe Fenech Adami and Ryan Callus, former MP Jason Azzopardi, Aquilina, as well as newspaper columnist and government critic Prof. Kevin Cassar.

He is further accused of threatening and insulting Aquilina and his brother, PN MP Karol Aquilina, as well as 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.

Robert Aquilina told Magistrate Astrid May Grima that the letters had been received in late 2021 after Repubblika had resumed its anti-corruption protests.

One was sent to his brother Karol’s house, addressed to Robert Aquilna and the other was sent directly to him, he said.

The letters had arrived at a time when Aquilina had just been advised, by a Labour politician who was not named in court, to take precautions for his safety. 

Aquilina said the two letters showed an obsession by the writer and their contents went beyond simple criticism. 

Inspector Kurt Farrugia informed the court that the letters would be exhibited at a later stage of the proceedings.

The magistrate asked Aquilina about the content of the letters. “They contained words which I interpreted as threats,” he began, before reading excerpts in court.

One of the letters had said that Aquilina’s time would be better spent, “making another daughter.” Aquilina said this demonstrated that the sender knew he had children and they were all girls. The letters also indicated that the sender also knew Aquilna had security guards around his house.

“I took away the message that the sender was watching me, apart from knowing about my family.”

The letters had also referred to Aquilina’s father as “perfidious” which the witness said had matched a previous description of his father’s environmental activism, showing the extent of the research carried out.

The letters had also made reference to the bomb which killed Daphne Caruana Galizia, although they stopped short of directly threatening Aquilina, he said in reply to a question from the court.

The impression was that it was a threat, that if he continued to do what he was doing, he would face consequences, Aquilina said

The Repubblika president had written to the Commissioner of Police, informing him of the letters. The Commissioner had dispatched a high ranking officer to Aquilina’s house to investigate the case and examine the letters together with forensic experts.

The witness recounted how he also had to ask his children’s schools to take security precautions in respect of his children, as a consequence of the poison pen letters.

One of the letters made reference to Jason Azzopardi and Simon Busuttil, Aquilina explained to magistrate Astrid May Grima. “He was repeating a narrative projected by the Labour media in which my colleagues and I are branded as traitors, who want to damage Malta’s reputation. These letters were a photocopy of this narrative.”

The handwriting was distinctive, Aquilina said. “It was so distinctive that other people who had received similar letters had approached me to tell me they recognised it. “When a female politician had posted a picture of an anonymous letter that she had received, to Facebook, I also recognised the handwriting.”

Borg’s defence lawyer, Henry Antoncic, asked how Aquilina had connected the letters to the accused. “It was the police who made this connection, after investigation,” he replied.

In response to another question from the lawyer, Aquilina said that he had not received further letters from this person, but added that he had received other letters in a similar vein.

The letters had left an impact on his family life, he said,  adding that he had been approached by an international organisation which had offered to finance enhanced personal security arrangements.

The lawyer asked whether any of the threats had been carried out. “Physically no,” Aquilina replied.

Police Inspectors Kevin Pulis and Kurt Farrugia are prosecuting. Lawyer Henry Antoncic is defence counsel.

The case was adjourned to May.

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