Two men on trial for 2005 Albert Rosso murder concocted tale of Sicilian mobsters, court hears

Prosecutors present evidence of a meticulously planned murder plot as the trial of Anthony Bugeja and Piero di Bartolo reaches its final stages

Albert Brian Rosso (inset) was shot dead in Marsaxlokk in 2005
Albert Brian Rosso (inset) was shot dead in Marsaxlokk in 2005

The two men on trial for the 2005 murder of Albert Brian Rosso had concocted a tale about angry Sicilian mobsters to scare the victim into letting them take over his fishing boat without paying him anything, a court has been told.

Prosecutor Angele Vella from the Office of the Attorney General made the prosecution’s submissions as the trial of Anthony Bugeja and Piero di Bartolo entered its final furlong on Friday. 

She described the murder as “a nearly perfect crime” that was unravelled by circumstantial evidence. “Destiny helps you stir the pot but then makes you forget to put the lid on,” quipped the lawyer.

“Yes, Tony Bugeja and Piero di Bartolo killed Albert Brian Rosso. Yes a weapon was used, reference being made to the firearm found in the pouch and yes, they hid his body, which was never found.”

She warned the jurors to be careful not to take the absence of forensic evidence at face value. “A negative can be a positive in some cases,” said the prosecutor, before reminding them how they had arrived at this point.

The police had carried out an “impeccable” investigation, which was augmented by a magisterial inquiry and then followed by a compilation of evidence which had led to the defendants being indicted, said Vella. “An indictment is not issued on a whim,” she pointed out.

A dispute over Lm5,000 had emerged as a possible motive for Rosso’s killing, she said. “The Lm5,000 were paid, but there was also a boat involved. Who had an interest in getting Rosso out of the picture? Who had an interest in proclaiming to everyone that it belonged to him?”

When the police had started their investigation, nobody they spoke to in connection with the vessel had even heard of Albert Brian Rosso, she said. “But the paperwork shows that it belonged to him.”

“Albert Brian Rosso was a marine biologist. A scientist and an animal-lover. The defendants concocted a story to terrify him, telling him that ‘the Sicilians’ were out to get him, in a bid to keep him away,” Vella said, reminding the court that former Commissioner of Police John Rizzo had told the jury that it had been the defendants who informed Rosso about the threats.

The prosecutor also reminded the jurors of Rosso’s first brush with death at the hands of the defendants, when they had started its engine while Rosso had been in the water, removing a net which Bugeja had tangled around the propeller.

The prosecutor told the jury that the process of starting the boat’s engine involved more than a simple button push. “It could not have been a mistake,” she said.

The prosecution is saying that Rosso was murdered inside Bugeja’s Marsaxlokk garage. A bucket full of solidified cement that had been retrieved from inside that garage was found to contain over 100 spent shotgun shells. Burnt tar, gloves and cloth had been found opposite it. “Use your good sense,” Vella urged the jurors.

Bugeja needed Di Bartolo’s assistance to get rid of the body, she said, and so the two men had meticulously planned its disposal at sea, Vella said, highlighting the fact that the boat’s GPS tracker had been switched off when it had sailed that day..

Suggesting that some witnesses had been intimidated, the prosecutor reminded the jury how one of the victim’s work colleagues had initially said she had noticed Rosso to be unusually distracted, staring blankly at his computer screen, but had told the jury that she did not remember her last conversation with him.

The person who had sold a revolver to Rosso had “for some reason” also said that he could not recall what the two men had said during the transaction, she said.

“The boat had a fishing licence issued to Rosso and new trawler licences were not being issued at the time, his widow told us,” Vella went on, pointing out that while the licence cost Lm200,000, the fact that they weren’t being issued had made it priceless.

“The defendants had the cheek to ask the widow for permission to use the boat and then, three days after his disappearance, had sent her a LM 1,000 bill for diesel,” she said.

In 2016 a court had established that Rosso had been the sole owner of the vessel, she added.

“There were no threats, no Italians. It was just a ploy to get rid of Rosso. And it worked because he didn’t go on the boat again.”

“The intention was there. They had a target and they went for it.”


Defence blasts “case built of fantasies and suppositions” 

Replying to the prosecution’s closing arguments on Friday, Bugeja’s defence lawyer Franco Debono told the jury that the case against the defendants was “built on fantasies and suppositions.”

The lawyer stressed that no death certificate had been issued, suggesting that there was no certainty that Rosso was even deceased.

“Is there proof that he is dead? Do we know where he is? Can you be certain that he died?” Debono said, arguing that there was “not a single piece of evidence” to show that a murder took place. A shotgun found in a garage and burnt objects in the vicinity did not mean that Rosso was murdered, said the lawyer.

Debono asked whether anyone had told the jury that they had seen anyone firing shots. “Unless one resorts to fantasy, therefore no.”

Appealing to jurors who might be thinking that it was possible that Rosso was murdered, the lawyer said that a possibility did not suffice to find guilt at law.

“To have proof, you need a body, pathologists, an autopsy and all this brings with it so as to establish the cause of death. It is true that you can’t exclude murder because there is no corpse, but what is certain is that in this case we have a huge hole in the evidence.”

The defence lawyer went on to suggest that it could even have been a case of self defence, because Rosso “was always running around with a revolver,” but said that these were all just suppositions. 

Describing the case as “a jigsaw puzzle full of holes,” Debono also attempted to cast doubts on the character of the victim. “Rosso was a businessman, he was not an idiot…he had told [former Police Commissioner] Michael Cassar that had bought a pistol because he was afraid…so Cassar was right to say that he was not naive.”

The trial continues.

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Franco Debono are representing Bugeja, with lawyer Roberto Montaldo appearing for Di Bartolo. Lawyer Stefano Filletti is parte civile.

Lawyers Angele Vella and Andrea Zammit from the Office of the Attorney General are prosecuting.