Witness’s credibility imperils case against alleged heist mastermind

Defence counsels for lawyer David Gatt, accused of masterminding the failed HSBC heist of 2010, drill further holes in police officer’s testimony

Mario Portelli's testimony remains one of the key weapons in the case against David Gatt
Mario Portelli's testimony remains one of the key weapons in the case against David Gatt

The criminal case against lawyer and former police inspector David Gatt - accused of masterminding the failed HSBC heist in Qormi back in 2010, as well as the €1 million Balzan HSBC bank robbery of 2007, a failed heist on a security van carrying €2.8 million in cash in 2009, and the attempted hold-up on a jeweller in Attard in December 2010 - may be jeopardised over the credibility of 'star witness' Mario Portelli.

PC 99 Mario Portelli's testimony is the prosecution's main plank in the case against David Gatt, a former police inspector whose removal from the force was found to have been illegal in a separate case.

Since then Gatt has been a practicing lawyer, but in 2010 was arrested as the alleged mastermind of the HSBC heist, with Portelli claiming that the self-styled 'mafia don' had tried to rope him into his gang.

Gatt's defence has now managed to drill holes into Portelli's uncorroborated allegations that Gatt was in contact with prison inmate Romeo Bone. A cell phone found inside the inmate's mattress produced photos of family members and 35 text messages, but none of the 93 contacts stored inside included that of David Gatt, a court expert's report presented on 3 September 2013 found.

Gatt's defence is attempting to bring down Portelli's credibility after Bugibba restaurateur Raymond Abela dubbed him "a liar from A to Z" in court, when Portelli said that Gatt had kissed the restaurant owner's hand and spoke to him in Italian.

The police prosecutors are claiming David Gatt was fixated with the Italian mafia, and styled himself as a godfather with his co-conspirators.

On his part, Portelli went as far as alleging that childhood friends Gatt and Abela were implicated in the murder of Renzo Borg, over a drug deal gone wrong.

Gatt's defence so far has revealed that as a police inspector, David Gatt had investigated Portelli for having paid for a prostitute's sexual favours while on duty.

A police forensic examination also shattered claims by Portelli that Gatt had used a tree as target practice in his presence. No evidence of shooting was found, even though Portelli claimed over 33 rounds had been fired at the tree.

Portelli has denied in court that he had once been recovered at Mount Carmel psychiatric hospital, and while a doctor was summoned to testify that Portelli was never a patient at MCH, the defence claims it will present new witnesses to this effect.

Portelli's allegations against Gatt read like a Hollywood blockbuster: in his statement to then Commissioner of Police John Rizzo back in 2010, PC 99 said David Gatt had made threats against the life of then President of the Republic Eddie Fenech Adami (the words used were that he would "bring a shutter down on him"); as well as against former Commissioner George Grech and others in connection with his forcible dismissal from the police force.

Portelli also alleged that Gatt actually confided in him details of an attempted hold-up on an Attard jeweler, and that he had decided to reveal these details after fearing he would be an accomplice in the crimes.

Portelli was not present for a confrontation that Rizzo prepared between Gatt and his accuser, having left the island on holiday.

Sources within the police force now say that Portelli has been transferred to the police garage as a driver.