Six charged over multiple thefts targeting tobacco warehouse

The group are charged with stealing tobacco products from a warehouse in Mriehel in October 2022 and January 2023

File photo
File photo

Six men have been charged in connection with several thefts targeting a tobacco warehouse in Mriehel.

Carlos Pace 21, from Marsa, James Azzopardi 33, from Qormi and Leon Calleja, 21, from Birkirkara all of whom said they were unemployed, were arraigned before magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit, together with self-employed businessman Daniel Vella, 21 from Zejtun, construction worker Jonathan Degiorgio, 37, Sta Venera and ERA environmental protection officer Joe Mark Merceica, 29, from Zabbar on Tuesday morning.

Pace, Calleja and Vella are accused of stealing tobacco products from a warehouse in Mriehel in October 2022. Pace, Azzopardi and Degiorgio are accused of attempting to rob the same warehouse in January 2023. Pace and Azzopardi are accused of again targeting the same warehouse a week later.

Azzopardi alone is further charged with stealing a Maruti jeep from Qormi, driving a Ford Transit van using another vehicle’s number plates, without insurance cover and with breaching four separate sets of bail conditions.

Merceica alone was charged with concealing four packets of smuggled cigarettes inside a Xghajra snack bar and inside a vehicle.

Degiorgio was also accused of breaching four sets of bail conditions, while Azzopardi, Calleja and Mercieca were additionally accused of recidivism. 

Police inspector Joseph Mercieca, prosecuting together with inspectors Christina Delia and Ritienne Gauci, explained that the warehouse in question had first been targeted in October last year. Two more thefts from the same warehouse had followed in January.

The inspector said that Carlos Pace was the first to be identified from CCTV and arrested. Degiorgio was subsequently identified as being involved in one of the subsequent thefts and also taken into custody. Police investigations then led to the arrests of the other men.

Joe Mark Mercieca had been found to be in possession of four packets of cigarettes from the stolen batch. He is facing additional charges of receiving stolen goods and customs offences.

Pace and Vella pleaded guilty to the charges and were released on bail, pending sentencing against a €500 deposit and a €5,000 personal guarantee each. They were also ordered to observe a curfew.

Lawyer Franco Debono asked for bail on behalf of Degiorgio. Inspector Mercieca pointed out that the man was already under several bail decrees, but conceded that his part in this crime was “relatively small.”

The court, however, said it did not feel that Degiorgio should be granted bail at this stage, refusing the request, but appointed a probation officer to report on him.

Lawyer Roberto Spiteri requested bail for Joe Mark Mercieca, arguing that the charges against his client were “not very serious” and the evidence had already been preserved as part of the inquiry. The prosecution did not object. The man was released on bail against a €500 deposit and a €5000 personal guarantee.

The court also released Calleja on bail, under the supervision of a probation officer. He was ordered to sign a bail book three times a week and observe a curefew. His bail was secured by a €500 deposit and a €5000 personal guarantee.

James Azzopardi did not request bail at this stage.

Lawyer Michael Sciriha appeared for Azzopardi, while lawyer Alessandro Lia represented Calleja. Lawyer Franco Debono was defence counsel to Degiorgio, Pace and Vella.

Merceica was assisted by lawyer Roberto Spiteri.