Sion Grech murder trial: Witness details victim's intimate relationship with accused

A sex worker who used to loiter in the same area as the victim testified that she had seen Grech getting into a car with a man shortly before her death

Ismael Habesh (right) and Faical Mahouachi (left), are on trial for the 2005 murder of Sion Grech
Ismael Habesh (right) and Faical Mahouachi (left), are on trial for the 2005 murder of Sion Grech

A sex worker who used to loiter in the same area frequented by murder victim Sion Grech has told a jury trying the two men accused of killing her that she had seen the victim getting into a car with a man, shortly before her death.

After taking the witness stand, she told the jury that she wanted to close this dark chapter in her life “once and for all”.

Prosecutors confronted the witness with testimony that she had given in 2016 before the Court of Magistrates, in which she had described seeing Grech leave the Marsa spot where she worked and how she had found out about her disappearance from the victim’s family members.

52-year-old Ismael Habesh from Libya and 55-year-old Faical Mahouachi from Tunisia are on trial for Grech’s 2005 murder.

The witness told the court that she had known the victim ever since they were children. She confirmed that Grech would also loiter for the purposes of prostitution in Marsa.

She had met Habesh, whom she recognised in court, through the victim “because he was her partner”.

Habesh and the victim would do drugs together, she added. "Grech was very jealous of Habesh because he was married,” recalled the witness, adding that on one occasion Grech had asked her to accompany her while giving Habesh’s wife a dressing down.

Asked about her previous testimony by the defence, the witness replied that years had passed and that she had tried to forget this episode of her life. “It’s not that I don’t remember, but I don’t want to confuse things when I come to explain it,” she explained.

Answering a question from one of the jurors, the witness said that Grech did not work with a pimp. The sex work would subsidise their drug habits, she said.

She described the relationship between Habesh and Grech as being typical of a couple who were addicted to drugs. Asked by the judge to expand on this statement, the witness replied that a drug-addicted couple would be more short-tempered and rougher.

But in spite of this, Grech would tell the witness that she loved Habesh and that they would get along well, she recalled.

Another juror asked whether the witness had ever seen men beating up women in the area, to which she replied that this was a regular occurrence. When it would happen, the other prostitutes in the area would disperse in anticipation of the arrival of police officers.

If the victim wasn’t at Marsa, Habesh wouldn’t be there either, she also said.

The jury was read a statement issued in 2005 by Jamal Salem Abulked, who had met the victim and Habesh near St. Luke’s Hospital in April that year. His wife’s relatives had rebuked him for embarrassing them by having sex with a transsexual prostitute, he had said.

On the day of the murder, Habesh had told the victim not to walk next to him so as not to be seen. Habesh and Abdulked had taken heroin in Marsa, whilst Grech had been loitering in the area. When the men met the victim again, she told them that she had been involved in a fight with a john.

Abdulked had said he had gone home and at around 9:45pm Habesh had visited his house. He asked where Grech was and the witness had informed him that she was in the area near Marsa’s HSBC. Habesh had asked him to bring him his beanie and gloves which had been Abdulked’s house, he said, adding that he had never gone to the police to tell them that he had met Grech before her murder because it had never occurred to him that he needed to do so.

He began to suspect something was wrong when he saw Grech being reported as missing on the news. He denied ever being threatened by Habesh to not tell the truth.

Mr. Justice Aaron Bugeja is presiding the trial by jury. Lawyers Anthony Vella and Abigail Caruana Vella from the Office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.

Lawyers Edward Gatt and Ishmael Psaila are representing Habesh, while lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace is legal aid defence counsel to Mohouachi. Lawyer Roberto Montalto is representing the family of the victim.