Josef Rivas: Murdered man was implicated in plots to kidnap Victoria Beckham and rob Sotheby's

Details emerge about the Paceville murder victim's criminal past, including a murder conviction and an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham

Paceville stabbing victim Joseff Rivas, pictured, was implicated in an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham (inset)
Paceville stabbing victim Joseff Rivas, pictured, was implicated in an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham (inset)

A man stabbed to death in Paceville last year had himself been convicted of murder, as well as been implicated in an alleged plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham, a court has heard today.

This emerged as magistrate Astrid May Grima heard defence submissions on bail as the compilation of evidence against Ilie Constantin, Ionut Iulian Tanase, and Dan-Andrei Tanase continued on Friday afternoon. The three men stand accused of the murder of Josef Rivas, a suspected member of a Romanian organised crime ring, who died after being stabbed in Paceville on 5 December 2022.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Charmaine Cherrett appeared for the three defendants, who were also assisted by a number of interpreters.

The first witness to testify on Friday was a sergeant from the Homicide Squad, who spoke about the process of securing the crime scene, and preserving CCTV footage and other digital evidence.

The footage showed the three suspects walking in the street near the Paceville Burger King, he said, adding that Tanase could be seen holding a long object in his hand, which was partially concealed up his sleeve.

Footage from elsewhere also showed the suspects entering an apartment, leaving a trail of what appeared to be drops of liquid behind them. A woman who came out of the same apartment was seen trying to clean up the drops, said the witness.

When they re-emerged, two of the men had changed their clothes, but Constantin was still wearing the same outfit. Two women were seen to rush inside the apartment at the same time, he said.

After his arrest, Tanase was escorted to the apartment while it was being searched by police officers. The defendant himself had unlocked the outer door using a PIN code, allowing the police to enter. “ We immediately noticed a blood trail leading to the apartment.”

Inside the apartment, police found more blood and had called in Scene of Crime Officers to document the scene, after which a search was carried out. A wet hoodie, resembling the one Tanase had been observed in the footage wearing outside, was recovered, added the witness, who also identified the defendants in the courtroom.

Asked by defence lawyer Franco Debono, the witness said he did not know anything about the victim’s character or past, but confirmed that the defendants had filed a police report because Rivas’ mother had recently travelled to Malta and spoken to them.

Inspector Bryan Xuereb was called to the witness stand next, to resume his testimony. 

The magistrate asked whether he had ever seen the victim before the murder. He hadn’t, he said, and had first laid eyes on him in hospital. He described Rivas as tall and a “big man.” 

Debono informed the court that Rivas had been convicted of murder in England, insisting that this was very relevant to the case. 

Turning to the inspector, the court asked what else he knew about the victim. Inspector Xuereb replied that he was not in charge of that aspect of the investigation. 

More details emerged when the inspector was asked by the Court about his internet research into the victim.

“There was an investigation by Scotland Yard who had thwarted an operation to kidnap Victoria Beckham,” said the inspector. “They found everything, it was prepared.” This information was not derived from official sources, however, he explained. 

Rivas had also been arraigned and eventually convicted of a murder, added the inspector, who told the court that the murdered man had also been a fugitive, on the run from the British police but did not know what he was wanted for.

Debono informed the court that the defence would be pleading legitimate self defence. 

“From a glance at the internet, this alleged victim had been condemned to life imprisonment for murder and subsequently escaped. He was also involved in a plot to kidnap Victoria Beckham for a €7.7 million ransom, as well as another plan to rob Sotheby’s auction house.”

It was necessary to point this out in view of the defendant’s claim to have acted in self-defence, he said.

The defence urged the prosecution to provide evidence about Rivas’ previous convictions, any investigations involving him, and any other fact that could shed light on his criminal conduct, as soon as possible. Internet searches provided instant results but were not sufficient evidence in criminal proceedings, he explained.

“It is crucial in order to understand who this victim is. Now we have made a formal request because the case has been ongoing for a long time.”

Prosecutor Darlene Grima replied that the case is still at the compilation of evidence stage, and the prosecution is still exhibiting its evidence. She agreed that online searches could not be exhibited and queries had to be made through the proper channels. “Therefore, one must understand  that these investigations take time. The police are investigating and the moment that the prosecution has all the evidence in hand, this will be exhibited before this court during the compilation of evidence.”

Debono pointed out that what the defence was requesting, is information that “is probably already in the possession of overseas authorities,” such as the judgement condemning Rivas. 

Grima repeated that this evidence needed to be procured “through the proper channels.”

“So is the prosecution telling us that it takes nine months to obtain an English judgement through the proper channels?” Debono hit back.

The court urged the prosecution to exhibit the requested information in the acts of the case as soon as they receive it.

Tanase requests bail

At the end of today’s hearing, the court announced that it would be issuing a decree on the defence’s request that Tanase be released on bail, next month.

Before that the defence summonsed a witness to testify for the purposes of giving an address where Tanase would reside if released from custody. But the witness, an Uzbekistani national, told the court that the St. Paul’s Bay apartment in question was not his, and that he was subletting it. The lease is registered with the housing authority, he added.

The court said it needed to see the contract first in order to establish whether he had a right to sublet.  But when the contract was handed over to the court, the prosecution pointed out that it only featured the lessor’s signature and did not specify his ID card number. 

Debono suggested that the defendants could sign the contract there and then, but this suggestion was shot down. 

The lawyer slammed the prosecution for notifying the court about Tanase’s bail request the day after it was filed, reading out from the law, which states such requests had to be served on the same day they are filed and that the AG had to file a reply by the next day.

'So this application, filed on Tuesday, should have been decreed by Wednesday."

He insisted that the defendants had provided an address for the purposes of bail and were “going out of their way to satisfy this requirement.” 

“This victim went to attack [the defendants], possibly together with other people.Debono submitted. “The people who had been with Rivas escaped. They weren't traced by the police,” he said, also making repeated reference to the failed Beckham kidnap plot.

“Here we are talking about a classic case of self-defence,” he said.  “Tanase was never mentioned anywhere by anyone. This is why, after nine months, we asked the prosecution to tell us who this victim is, may he have the glory of heaven. I know that criminal proceedings require official documents, but I had to inform the court that this man… was a killer.”


Lawyers Franco Debono, Charmaine Cherrett, Arthur Azzopardi and Jacob Magri are defence counsel.