Paceville stabbing suspect texted ‘girlfriend’ to book flights out of Malta, while in custody

Romanians suspect of running prostitution ring and accused of stabbing man to death in Paceville tried booking flights out of Malta through woman being held in custody by police

Paceville murder victim Joseff Rivas
Paceville murder victim Joseff Rivas

One of the men accused of stabbing a man to death in Paceville last December, was texting his girlfriend to book him flights while she was in the presence of police officers searching their apartment, a court was told.

Josef Rivas, a suspected member of a Romanian organised crime ring, died at Mater Dei Hospital after being stabbed in Paceville on December 5, 2022, in what is suspected to be a murder commissioned by a rival criminal gang.

Several police witnesses testified as the compilation of evidence against Rivas’s alleged assassins continued before Magistrate Nadine Lia on Thursday.

Three Romanian men, Ilie Constantin, Ionut Iulian Tanase, and Dan-Andrei Tanase, were subsequently charged with his murder. They deny the charges.

None of the six interpreters contacted by police were able to attend the day’s sitting, with one interpreter who had been assisting the defence appointed as a temporary measure.

Inspector Wayne Camilleri from the Homicide Squad recounted how a day after the murder, 6 December, the three suspects turned themselves in at the St Julian’s police station.

That night, a 9pm search was conducted at Bay Breeze apartments on St George’s Street, St. Julian’s, with Tanase accompanying the police during the search. “The first thing we noticed were several droplets of what we suspected to be blood in the common area outside the flat... We noticed several blood marks everywhere, so we immediately called in a forensic team.” 

A roll of paper kitchen towel soaked with blood was found in the kitchen and a soaking wet hoodie in the dustbin, which police suspected to have been washed immediately before being discarded. Tanase had previously told the police that he had thrown away the shirt he had been wearing during the murder.

The men had been staying at the apartment with their girlfriends at the time. After the murder, Tanase had rushed to the apartment, changed the sweater, telling the women everything, and then catching a taxi to another apartment.

The women, who Tanase referred to as girlfriends, immediately packed up and left the country, and when police arrived at the apartment it was found to be empty. 

Tanase then led the police to another apartment in Triq il-Wasliet, Swieqi, where he said he had disposed of the murder weapon by throwing it down a shaft. Although the police conducted an intense search for the knife there and in the maisonette below, it was not found.

Blood traces were also found on switches, in the bathroom, the living room and the kitchen. “We noticed traces almost everywhere,” Camilleri said, adding that footage from several CCTV cameras covering the common area was later downloaded by a court-appointed expert. 

Lawyer Franco Debono cross-examined, asking the inspector whether any investigations had been carried out into the victim and his background.

Last to testify was Inspector Brian Xuereb from the St Julian’s police station, who was alerted to reports of a person lying on the ground outside a pastizzerija in Paceville, bleeding heavily from many cuts.

An ambulance was dispatched to the scene and took the victim to Mater Dei. “The casualty was non-responsive, but was still alive when he was taken to hospital. He did not speak.”

The inspector found that the victim had been involved in an argument with three men outside a snack bar in Ross Street. “I was told that the men had been sitting down having tea, minding their own business when the other person, the victim, approached them.” A fight then broke out, in which chairs and road signs were used as weapons.  The brawl moved to the middle of a nearby roundabout, where the victim fell to the ground. The other men continued to attack Rivas while he was on the ground, he said.

After the assailants fled, the victim had walked over to the pastizzerija and sat down. “That was the initial information we had received,” Inspector Xuereb said.

A magisterial inquiry was immediately launched. A Romanian ID card was found in the victim’s possession, who was identified as Joseff Rivas, a British national. His nationality was later confirmed by the British Embassy, said the inspector.

Later that day police received information that the murder suspects owned apartments that were being used for prostitution in Ross Street, Paceville. Rivas was certified dead that day at 5:20pm.

As the investigations progressed, an informant – an ex-girlfriend of the men – was being held in custody, while receiving communications directly from the suspects, allowing the police to discover that the men were planning to leave Malta. Investigators instructed the informant to cooperate and buy them the tickets, with the intention of arresting the suspects at the airport.

Meanwhile, the three suspects turned themselves in at St Julian’s police station and confessed to killing Rivas, claiming this was in self-defence.

The case was adjourned to May for submissions on a bail request filed by the defendants earlier today.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Franco Debono, Charmaine Cherret and Jacob Magri are representing the accused men. The accused are being prosecuted by lawyers Darlene Grima and Kaylie Bonnett from the Attorney General’s office, along with police inspectors Kurt Zahra and Wayne Camilleri. Magistrate Nadine Lia is presiding over the case.