St Venera mayor Stephen Sultana acquitted of drunk, dangerous driving charges

Santa Venera Mayor and Boffa Hospital CEO Stephen Sultana has been acquitted of drunk and dangerous driving charges dating back to 2022

St Venera mayor, Stephen Sultana
St Venera mayor, Stephen Sultana

Santa Venera Mayor and Boffa Hospital CEO Stephen Sultana has been acquitted of drunk and dangerous driving charges dating back to 2022, after a court heard how he had repeatedly complained to LESA about finding the officials, who later reported him to the police, asleep at their posts in the days before the alleged incident.

Sultana had been accused of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, dangerous driving, insulting and attempting to intimidate LESA officials, giving them false particulars and refusing to submit to a breathalyser test.

The incident in question had occurred at around 2am on 20 July 2022, when Sultana’s Renault SUV was stopped in Santa Venera by two LESA Community Officers who believed that the driver was not in full control of his vehicle.

They told the police that Sultana had begun insulting after being told that he would be breathalysed, disobeying their instructions to stay where he was and driving off instead.

Sultana later went to the Ħamrun police station and released a statement, denying the allegations.

From affidavits and testimony of the people involved, Magistrate Victor Axiak established that the two Community Officers in question had been ordered to man a fixed-point station, diverting traffic heading away from Triq il-Kbira San Ġuzepp in Santa Venera because fireworks were being set up for the feast, further up the road.

One of the Community Officers in question, Brian Dimech, told the court that he had been resting in his car for a few minutes and had put his feet up, when Sultana had walked up to the car and knocked on the window, “shouting and swearing,” because he had paid for two officers and expected to find them both at their duty station.

The court noted that this was not the first time that he had found one of the Community Officers resting in their car - he had, in fact, found that very situation the day before.

Sultana had then walked up to the other Community Officer, who had been standing a distance away and allegedly swore at him too, before Sultana climbed into his own vehicle and drove away.

At that point, the officer had phoned two other LESA colleagues in the area and instructed them to stop the vehicle, which was approaching their position, because its driver “had a strong smell of alcohol” and alleging that the driver had not been fully aware of his surroundings.

Sultana had also testified, telling the court that the local council had an agreement with LESA to station two Community Officers at a number of fixed points in the locality during the week leading up to the village feast. When he had found a LESA car and motorcycle unattended. Sultana told the court that he had called up their superior, Marius Bugeja and had politely informed him that, as LESA was not providing the service in the manner agreed, he would not be paying them. 

Bugeja had been upset, said the mayor. “He told me that he didn’t know who had elected me mayor and that I don’t know anything about traffic management, before hanging up.”

Later that night, at 1:30am on Saturday, while walking to his car in Triq il-Kbira San Guzepp, Sultana had once again noticed that only one Community Officer was manning his post. The other officer was asleep in his vehicle with his feet up on the dashboard, wearing a pair of sunglasses, the court was told.

When he had asked the Community Officer why he was not standing beside his colleague, the other colleague replied that he had been there until a short while before.

The officer in the car ignored Sultana and got back into the car, after which Sultana had walked up the road to speak to members of the local fireworks club - of which Sultana was president - and brought them something to drink.

As he drove home, Sultana spotted a second LESA car with two Community Officers asleep inside it and stopped his car beside it to ask them who had given them orders to stay inside the car.

They replied that the order had come from their superior. “Don’t worry,” Sultana told the officers, “when I get the bill, we will discuss the matter further.” He then went home.

From the witness stand the mayor had explained that, as the local council was publicly funded, it was his responsibility to stand up to these things. He denied swearing at the officers or driving dangerously in their vicinity.

Under cross-examination he also denied both having consumed any alcohol and that the officers had asked him to submit to a breathalyser test.

Sultana told the magistrate that the officers had made up the drunk driving claim in an attempt to frame him as revenge for pointing out their dereliction of duty.

Two members of the fireworks club and a supervisor from the cleansing department also testified that, far from being drunk, Sultana had been asking about what progress was being made in the setting up of the ground fireworks.

In a judgement handed down on Tuesday, Magistrate Axiak observed that even if Sultana had shouted and sworn at the LESA officials in those circumstances, his actions did not amount to vilification of a public officer.

The court said it also had, at minimum, reasonable doubt as to the credibility of the Community Officers’ testimony with regards to the dangerous driving charges, in the context of the disagreement which emerged between their employer and the mayor about serious shortcomings in the service being provided.

No evidence had been presented to substantiate the drunk driving charge and neither the charge of refusing to give his particulars, nor did that of breaching the public peace, said the court. Ruling that the prosecution had also failed to prove that Sultana had been drunk and incapable of taking care of himself in public, the court acquitted him of all charges.

Police inspectors Nicholas Vella and Rachel Aquilina prosecuted.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri assisted Sultana.