Man charged over gesture towards prosecutor released on bail

Man accused of making an offensive gesture towards a prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office last month granted bail

File photo
File photo

A man accused of making an offensive gesture towards a prosecutor from the Attorney General’s Office last month, has been granted bail this afternoon after the court was informed that all the prosecution’s witnesses had testified. 

26-year-old Josef Majri from Tarxien was charged in court following a chance encounter with prosecuting lawyer Andrea Zammit at a Valletta bar on May 20. Zammit is currently prosecuting two cases against Majri, who had been out on two separate sets of bail conditions at the time when the incident took place.

The first case relates to the discovery of 9kg of cannabis in his car back in 2019, the second dates back to 2021, when Majri and others were accused of laundering at least €21,000 of drug money by placing bets on sporting events.

Zammit took the witness stand this morning, when the case against Majri continued before magistrate Astrid May Grima. He told the court that he had been at a bar on a Saturday night out with a colleague of his, when he had spotted Majri who had also noticed the prosecutor.

The defendant had made a gesture with his thumb and index finger extended in Zammit’s direction, he said. Although he had thought nothing of it at the time, having given the incident further thought, the prosecutor had informed the police about the incident the following Monday. 

The police report had been read out by defence lawyer Franco Debono during Majri’s arraignment. “He saw him making a hand signal which appeared to mean the man recognised him, but at no time was he threatened,” the lawyer had read.  

It was only after Zammit returned home did it dawn on him that the man was Majri, whom he is prosecuting, he said.

From the witness stand this morning, Zammit explained that in view of the exceptional circumstances, he had also later informed the magistrate presiding Majri’s drug case, Donatella Frendo Dimech, about the incident, over the phone. 

Zammit insisted that he had only made the phone call to the magistrate because he feared that his safety was at stake and stressed that it was not an attempt to influence the case.

Zammit’s colleague at the AG, lawyer Sean Xerri De Caro from the Office of the Attorney General took the witness stand this afternoon.

He recounted how he had invited Zammit to join him at a social event held at around 10:30pm on May 19, as the witness didn’t know many people attending. 

On their way out of the bar some hours later, the two lawyers had noted a group of men drinking near the entrance. “Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw someone pointing in the direction of someone behind me,” Xerri De Caro said, adding that Zammit had been behind him at the time.

The gesture was with two fingers, he said, and had given the witness the initial impression that the man had recognised someone. 

The witness had given Zammit a ride home that evening. It was only when he was about to drop Zammit off that Zammit had asked Xerri De Caro about Majri, telling him that he had made a gesture towards him at the bar. “I went cold, because I remembered the gesture,” said the lawyer. 

Cross-examined by Franco Debono, he confirmed that Zammit had not expressed any fear to him in connection with the incident. “The discussion was not about whether or not he was afraid, but about the pointing,” Xerri De Caro replied to the lawyer’s questions. 

“Did he tell you that he spoke to a magistrate?” asked Debono. He had not, replied the witness. Zammit had later called him up at home to tell him that the man was Majri, mentioning that the man was on bail in a case where Zammit was prosecuting.

Debono read out Zammit’s report asking the witness whether it was similar to his understanding of the situation. “He never discussed the police report or its contents with me,” replied Xerri De Caro.

Magistrate Grima asked whether the witness was aware that Zammit had filed a police report about the incident. The witness said he seemed to recall being told this, but only had a vague idea, as he was currently studying for exams and only communicated with Zammit by WhatsApp. “I didn’t understand why the report was filed and I didn’t ask him about it. It’s his case,” he said.

“Did he tell you that he had phoned the magistrate presiding over Majri’s case about the incident?” asked Debono. “No,” replied Xerri De Caro. 

“I am asking you because he told the court this himself,” prodded the lawyer, but the witness repeated that he had not.

The last few prosecution witnesses handed over CCTV footage from the bar, confirmed Zammit’s employment at the Office of the Attorney General and exhibited an affidavit released by the police sergeant who had registered Zammit’s initial police report.

Debono told the court that the affidavit confirmed that at no time had the prosecutor been afraid. The lawyer requested bail, noting that no civilian witnesses remained. 

Debono expressed surprise at Zammit’s testimony this morning, in which he had told the court that he had felt intimidated. 

“What I heard today leads me to be somewhat concerned,” said the lawyer, referring to Zammit’s testimony. “I have Dr. Andrea Zammit who only went to file a report two days later, telling the police that he did not feel threatened and was doing so only for record purposes. His colleague has also just confirmed this from the witness stand.”

Debono argued that it was natural to react in some way during an unexpected encounter with the person prosecuting you. 

“What is worrying me too,” said the lawyer, “is that Zammit told the court that he had communicated with Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, the magistrate before which the defendant is appearing.” Debono later made it a point to tell the court that he had every respect for the magistrate and held her in high esteem.

There were no further witnesses and Majri should be released on bail.

FCID Inspector Robert Azzopardi, who is prosecuting this case, told the court that during his interrogation, Majri had admitted to breaching the bail conditions he had been under, and submitted that he therefore could not be trusted to stick to future bail conditions, either.

Debono suggested that Majri was only out “15 minutes past his curfew”, arguing that the legislator had recently amended the law to give courts more leeway in such cases. Even if found guilty, the court could punish Majri with a fine, not imprison him, argued the lawyer.

The court, after hearing the bail submissions and in view of the fact that no further civilian witnesses remained to be heard, upheld the bail request. 

Majri already signed a bail book four times a week and was under a curfew, the court was told. Magistrate Grima lengthened his curfew, ordering the man to be indoors one hour earlier than the time stipulated in his previous bail conditions.

The defendant’s bail was secured by a €1,000 deposit and a €5,000 personal guarantee.

“Mr. Majri, this is the second time. Be careful - keep to your bail conditions,” warned the magistrate.

The court also upheld the prosecution’s request to impose a protection order in favour of Zammit and ordered Majri not to approach him.