Yacht arson accomplice tells court he was promised €500

Accomplice of a man accused of setting fire to a yacht, moored at Sliema in 2022, tells court he had been promised €500 to carry out the arson attack

File photo
File photo

The accomplice of a man accused of setting fire to a yacht, moored at Sliema in 2022, has told a court that he had been promised €500 to carry out the arson attack.

38-year-old Olivend Xuereb from Buġibba was arraigned earlier last month and charged with complicity in the arson attack on a yacht named Megan Valletta in July last year, as well as with having given false testimony in the parallel prosecution of another man prosecuted in connection with the fire, Wayne Delia, and recidivism.

Earlier last month a third man, Melvin Debono, known by his nickname, il-Quws, was charged with commissioning the crime. Delia told the court that Debono had offered to pay him €500 to set the boat on fire, but the money had never arrived.

When the compilation of evidence against Xuereb continued before Magistrate Nadine Lia on Tuesday, defence lawyer Rachel Tua requested bail. The court was informed that all civilian witnesses had now testified.

Inspector Colin Sheldon took the witness stand today, explaining how CCTV footage and other evidence had led investigators to identify two men seen approaching the boat that day.

Delia and Xuereb had been arrested last year on suspicion of arson, but although charges were issued against Delia, there had been insufficient evidence to charge Xuereb at the time.

Delia, who is understood to have pleaded guilty in separate proceedings, had furnished the police with information about the crime, which he had later confirmed on oath before a magistrate.

He testified again today, telling the court how he and Xuereb had agreed to throw accelerant on the boat, he said, insisting that it had been Xuereb who carried the fuel can. Delia said his part was to throw “a small keychain ball” at the boat. Although he did not elaborate, it is understood that this object had been set alight before it was thrown.

Xuereb had then caught a taxi and fled the scene in it, he said.

The crime had been commissioned by Melvin Debono, he said. Debono had promised him €500 to set fire to the boat, but the payment had never materialised, Delia added.

Police Inspector Colin Sheldon also testified on Tuesday, telling the court how a police sergeant had gone to the scene of a report of a fire on a boat, together with firemen from the Civil Protection Department.

A passer-by who had been on a stroll along the seafront had spotted two burning objects on the boat and had promptly climbed on board, throwing them into the sea. The passerby had also described seeing two men, who matched Xuereb and Delia’s descriptions nearby.

Cross-examining the inspector, defence lawyer Rachel Tua asked whether Xuereb appeared on any of the CCTV footage collected during the investigation.

He replied that although there was no clear footage of him pouring the fuel on the boat, there was CCTV footage of the pair buying the petrol from a petrol station. Xuereb is seen carrying the jerrycan, he said, quipping that it was “clearly not for a barbeque,” as the men had initially claimed.

After the inspector finished testifying, the defence made a request for bail, which was not objected to by the prosecution.

Lawyer Rachel Tua told the court that the defendant was now “on the right path,” had made an effort to change his ways, and had even been nominated for a “worker of the year” award by his colleagues. Xuereb told the court he was currently working three jobs in maintenance and security.

His bail request was upheld, against a €2,000 deposit and a €5,000 personal guarantee, with the court also ordering him to observe a curfew and sign a bail book twice a week.

A protection order was issued in favour of the boat’s three owners as well as Wayne Delia.