Third police officer charged over the abduction, beating of migrants

Inspector tells court that other police officers had alleged that they had gone on patrol with the accused, who would look for a foreign national, abduct them, beat them up and dump them in an uninhabited place near Qormi

Luca Brincat
Luca Brincat

A third police officer has been arraigned in connection with two separate incidents in which migrants were allegedly first abducted and beaten and then abandoned in an uninhabited area.

20-year-old Police Constable Luca Brincat from Qormi was arraigned under arrest before Magistrate Monica Vella on Monday to face charges related to the incident. 

Brincat, who is currently suspended from active duty, is pleading not guilty to charges of kidnapping, abuse of authority, illegal arrest, holding a person against his will, two counts of attempted grievous bodily harm and two counts of causing slight injury, the bodily harm charges being aggravated by their racial motives.

Brincat was also accused of committing an offence which caused grave suffering, on discriminatory grounds, in his capacity as a public officer and abusing his authority. Further charges, relating to causing, in his capacity as a public officer, a person to fear violence, as well as carrying arms proper and possession of a prohibited weapon.

His co-accused, Rica Mifsud Grech and Jurgen Falzon, had been arraigned on Sunday before Magistrate Joe Mifsud, pleading not guilty to the charges before being remanded in custody.

The court had been told that Brincat could not be arraigned during the same sitting as he had complained of chest pain on Saturday and had to be hospitalised. He was discharged from hospital later on Sunday.

Inspector Joseph Mercieca told the court that other police officers had alleged that when they had gone on patrol with the accused, who would look for a foreign national, abduct them, beat them up and dump them in an uninhabited place near Qormi.

His co-accused had been interrogated and charged, but Brincat was given police bail for treatment in hospital yesterday afternoon, explained the inspector.

Defence lawyer Franco Debono suggested that the man had spent nearly 24 hours on police bail and that the accused had obeyed the conditions of his police bail and appeared in court.

Inspector Mercieca objected to Debono’s assertion that the man had come to court of his own free will.

Merceica said Assistant Commissioner Sandro Gatt had arrested him in Hamrun.

The police said they were aware of two alleged victims so far.

Debono asked what his client had done. They picked them up, put them in a car, took them to a secluded field and beat them. The two assaults took place on separate days.

The charges are attempted grievous bodily harm, the victims having been beaten unconscious, said inspector Omar Zammit, in reply to Debono’s suggestion that the injuries were therefore slight in nature. The injuries were yet to be certified, Zammit explained.

Debono asked whether AC Gatt had given the accused a copy of the arrest warrant. Inspector Mercieca offered to call him to testify, as he had not been present at the time.

The defence requested bail, which was objected to by the prosecution, on the grounds that not all of the victims had testified.

Debono argued that the magisterial inquiry had already preserved their testimony, and the law stated that such witnesses should not testify in the compilation of evidence.

The accused was 20, his parents were present in the courtroom, and had no criminal record.

There are jurists who argue that the offence of attempted grievous bodily harm doesn’t exist, as it is very difficult to arrive at the intent if the actual bodily harm caused was slight, Debono said.

“He’s a first offender, 20 years old, just starting out in life. If he did wrong, the court will decide it at the end of proceedings,” Debono said. “If you go to prison after being sentenced, it’s one thing, but if you go spend a couple of weeks there until you get bail, it’s another.”

The system was geared against the granting of bail during an arraignment, Debono submitted, pointing out that if found guilty and sentenced to prison, a person had an immediate right to bail if an appeal is filed.

Debono referred to the prosecution of officers for the involuntary homicide of Richmond Tong, who died while in police custody. “They were charged by summons.” The defendants in that case were officers with a higher rank than the accused, and the presiding magistrate had made it very clear that she would not be hearing the witnesses again.

He said that he had evidence that during the day after the accused’s release from hospital, he had a day in which to attempt to suborn any prosecution witnesses.

His parents were prepared to offer guarantees, added the lawyer. “Just because there was an arraignment yesterday in which own merits

“From footage we have, besides the two victims already identified, we have an unidentified third man who also appears to have been threatened by the accused who was brandishing a knife,” submitted Inspector Zammit.

“God forbid that bail is denied on the grounds of an unidentified victim,” Debono said, adding that police bail could have been granted until this person was identified, before pressing charges.

Debono said it “hurts” to see that whenever a tourist was a victim of a crime, the police would take the initiative to summon all its witnesses during the arraignment so as not to disrupt the victim’s travel plans. If the victim lives in Malta, the witnesses are summoned at a later stage. “Is this fair?”

Inspector Zammit said he “marvelled” at the fluidity of Debono’s position with regards to the issue of the rule of law, remarking that the lawyer seemed to be trying to choose which magistrate heard his case. Debono did not take this remark lightly, arguing at length, describing it as “very rich” that statement was made by the prosecution that had the option to choose before whom to arraign a suspect.

The court, after hearing the arguments on both sides, ruled that it was too early to grant bail, but urged the prosecution to summon its witnesses without delay.

Inspectors Joseph Mercieca and Omar Zammit prosecuted. Lawyers Anthony Vella and Kaylie Bonnett represented the Office of the Attorney General.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Francesca Zarb are defence counsel.