Sommelier charged with stealing €2,400 worth of wine from restaurant he worked at

Sommelier in the dock for stealing 13 bottles of wine from the restaurant where he was employed

A sommelier has been charged with the theft of €2,400 worth of wine from the restaurant where he was employed, after his distinctive gait led police to find the bottles in his residence.

Swieqi resident Jose Castano Rivera from Spain appeared in the dock before Magistrate Victor Axiak on Thursday, accused of theft, aggravated by value.

Police inspector Warren Galea, prosecuting together with police inspector Francesco Mizzi and prosecutor Alessia Schembri from the Office of the Attorney General gave a brief account of what had led to the man’s arrest.

At 2:30pm on January 7 the Qawra police station received a report filed by the manager of a restaurant in Mellieha, in which he claimed that 13 bottles of wine had been stolen from the premises.

The manager told the police that at around 11:30am that day, the defendant had closed the restaurant. When it was reopened in the afternoon, the bottles of wine, allegedly worth around €2,400, were found to be missing.

The police had examined CCTV footage from the restaurant, which showed a person entering the restaurant at 11:45am that day, using a key that had evidently been left in a flowerpot next to the door. The person disarmed the alarm using the proper code and proceeded to take the bottles and place them inside a canvas bag.

Police enquiries made with a number of people had all pointed to Rivera, not least because of the particular gait of the person seen on the CCTV footage. An arrest warrant was then issued, leading to Rivera being arrested at his residence in Swieqi.

A search of the premises was also carried out, recovering all 13 of the stolen bottles of wine, which were still sealed. Some bottles were found packaged “ready to be sent abroad”, the inspector said.

Asked by the court what he was pleading today, Rivera sighed and thought about it for a few moments. “Let’s say I’m guilty,” he said, before being directed by the court to consult with his lawyer before confirming his plea.

After leaving the courtroom with his counsel for no more than a few seconds, he returned and changed his admission of guilt to a plea of not guilty.

In answer to a question by the court, the defence said it was not requesting bail.

Lawyer Alexia Vassallo assisted the defendant as legal aid.