Qormi valley murder: court warns reluctant witness of consequences of prevaricating

The compilation of evidence against Eliott Busuttil, 38, who stands accused of the murder of 62-year-old Mario Farrugia, whose body was discovered inside the trunk of his own car in a Qormi valley on April 5, continued on Monday

Murder suspect Eliott Paul Busuttil
Murder suspect Eliott Paul Busuttil

A court hearing evidence in the case against Eliott Paul Busuttil, accused murdering taxi driver Mario Farrugia, repeatedly warned a reluctant witness of serious repercussions for her evasive behaviour.

The woman, whose name cannot be published on court order, was called to testify in the compilation of evidence against Busutill.

Busuttil, 38, who stands accused of the murder of 62-year-old Mario Farrugia, whose body was discovered inside the trunk of his own car in a Qormi valley on April 5, continued before Magistrate Astrid May Grima this afternoon.

At the start of today's sitting, before the woman took the witness stand, the court upheld a request, transmitted via the prosecution, to order a ban on the publication of her name.

But that did not seem to be sufficiently reassuring to the witness, who was assisted by a Romanian language interpreter during the sitting.

Prosecutor George Camilleri, from the Office of the Attorney General, conducted the examination of the witness. She resides in Bugibba, she said, but previously lived in Mosta. The woman has been living in Malta since 2015 “on and off,” she said. Asked to clarify what this meant in practice, she said “I spent a few years in Malta, then in Romania. I returned in 2020.”

“Who is Eliott Busuttil?” asked Camilleri.

“It’s a person,” replied the witness, unhelpfully.

The court asked her directly how she knew him. At first she said she couldn’t remember, but when pressed further, she said that she had known him for years. “Since 2018.”

Asked to explain her friendship with the accused, she was similarly vague.

“We are not friends as such, we are more like acquaintances,” she said, stating that there had not been any romantic connection with the accused.

Busuttil’s lawyer, Ishmael Psaila, asked whether there was any point in having an interpreter, pointing out to the court that the witness seemed to be understanding the questions put to her in English and appeared to be replying to them in the same language. The court opted to have the interpreter assist the woman as required.

“How many times a week did you meet him?” asked the Magistrate, referring to Busuttil. “It wasn’t every week. There were years where we did not meet and then we would meet again. Sometimes in a month we would meet several times.” There was no particular purpose to their meetings, she added.

Unimpressed by the witness’ vague replies, the magistrate warned the woman that she was close to being declared a hostile witness, as well as being found in contempt.

The testimony continued. “Sometimes we’d meet at his house, sometimes in the city,” the woman said, specifying that the house was in Attard.

Busuttil lived with his parents and daughters in that house, she said, adding that the last time she had been there, Busuttil’s brother had also been at the house, after his release from hospital.

Her last visit to the accused’s residence took place on March 28 this year, said the woman. “I was visiting his brother, Glenn Busuttil. He was out of the hospital.” The court asked the witness what else she knew about the accused.

“I was not his girlfriend so I do not know too many details about his personal life,” she replied.

“Yet she would visit his family home. She said she knew him for four years,” observed the magistrate, increasingly annoyed by the witness’s intransigence. “I will find you in contempt. Behave properly please,” warned the magistrate.

“What would they do at his home?” asked the court, but the witness’ reply was neither here nor there: “I did not visit him for many years, and the last time I visited it was his brother. 

“I do not know his real life. We are just acquaintances,” replied the witness, claiming that Busuttil “was friends with other friends of mine.” The court then invited her to name these friends, but the witness said she did not know their names. 

At this point, the court suspended her testimony and informed her that if she did this again, she would be found in contempt “and the punishment will not be monetary.” The witness’ lawyer, Alfred Abela, was granted a few minutes to speak with his client outside the courtroom. The witness stalked out, noisily.

Whilst the woman was outside the courtroom, Psaila dictated a note to the court in which he reserved the right to contest, at a later stage, the questions which were being put to the witness.

Two police officers testified next, the first officer being part of the three-man team which forced its way into the victim’s house while investigating the taxi driver’s disappearance.

The second officer to testify was a constable from the Vice Squad, who described the enquiries she had made with neighbours of the victim. One neighbour had noted that after seeing him last on 28 March, Farrugia had not taken out his household waste for collection for some time and that the lights in his house had been on day and night.

The police had also analysed the victim’s call profiles and identified a man who was taken in for questioning. That man had tried to make contact with the victim on March 29, two minutes before Farrugia’s mobile phone transmitted its final localisation data. The man told the police that he had wanted to use the victim’s services as a taxi driver but said the call hadn’t been answered. 

The court adjourned the case to 3 October.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila are defence counsel to Busuttil.

Inspector Wayne Camilleri prosecuted, with the help of lawyers George Camilleri, Kaylie Bonnett and Maria Schembri from the Attorney General’s office. 

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri appeared parte civile, on behalf of the victim's family.