Diplomat’s wife accused of harassing taxi driver

Two lawyers argue over submissions in defence of two taxi drivers and the wife of a German diplomat, who face charges of assaulting each other in St Julian's.

Magistrate Ian Farrugia had to repeatedly ask defence lawyers Lucio Scriha and Gianluca Caruana Curran from refraining to interrupt each other's witnesses, as both lawyers attempted to drill holes in the evidence raised against their clients.

Sciriha's client Ihssane Larhzali is accused of attempting to use force against taxi driver Fabian Mifsud, harassing Mifsud and damaging his vehicle. The 34-year-old Moroccan national, who resides in Sliema is married to a German diplomat and enjoyed diplomatic immunity. However the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany has waived her immunity in view of her court case.

Dr Gianluca Caruana Curran is appearing on behalf of taxi drivers Fabian Mifsud and Emanuel Tabone, who stand charged with assaulting and injuring Ihssane Larhzali.

Taking the witness stand, Larhzali explained how in the early hours of 26 May she was in Paceville with her friends. Exiting the group stopped next to a parked Taxi. "The big taxi guy shouted at me and insulted me in Maltese, expecting me to move from the car. I repeatedly told him that I was not damaging his vehicle however he grabbed me by the hand, threw me on the floor and assaulted me. I kicked him in his private parts to defend myself," the witness said.

After the incident Larhzali called for police assistance, telling the operator "unless you send officers to help I will call my embassy for assistance".

The victim filed a police report, and later released a police statement. Cross-examined by Dr Caruana Curran, the woman said she never drinks alcohol and had not touched the vehicle. "My handbag was very close to the taxi, but I was not leaning on the car," she replied.

25-year-old taxi driver Fabian Mifsud, of Msida, told the court that he saw Larhzali and her friends approach his vehicle, and the woman leaned against his taxi. "Today's cars are easily damaged so I told her to move away, but she refused and insisted she won't do any damage. I repeatedly asked her to move away but she started shouting and threatening me she would get me in trouble because she was a diplomat," he told the court.

Mifsud said that he grabbed the woman from her hand to pull her off his car, but she started hitting him with the handbag and kicking him. "Her friends argued with her to move away but she refused to move. She behaved like a drunk person. I'm used to seeing people under the influence in Paceville. When behaving in a normal way, a person would have moved away and apologized," the taxi driver said.

He concluded that he left the scene not to escalate the argument and later the same morning he realised the woman had dented his mudguard.

Cross-examined by Dr Lucio Sciriha, the young taxi driver said he did not rule out swearing in Maltese as he lost his mind when the woman refused to move and started threatening him. "I never insulted her personally. She was never on the floor and contrary to her, the women she was with was very well-mannered."

Mifsud's version of events was corroborated by fellow taxi driver Emanuel Tabone. "Having worked with taxis for over 20 years I know trouble when I see it. The woman was looking to get someone in trouble. Yes, Fabian dragged her by the wrist but he did not assault her, whereas she kept threatening him with her position at the embassy, hitting him with her bag and kicking him. I told him to leave to get away from trouble," Tabone said. He recounted how the next day his young colleague told him the woman had dented his vehicle but he never saw the actual damage.

Defence lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran argued that the two cases were riddled with conflicting evidence. "The two taxi drivers have confirmed the statements released to the police and also corroborated each other's version, while Ihssane Larhzali gave the court a conflicting version to what she told the police. Not even her original police report and the statement she released to investigators match."

Dr Caruana Curran held that the alleged victim described a large brawl and intense assault, however the medical certificate exhibited says she had minor injuries. Moreover one of the taxi drivers should have never been arraigned as a co-accused but as a witness as the victim herself exonerated him from the charges, he said.

Larhzali's defence counsel, Dr Lucio Sciriha countered that the conflict in evidence was in favour of his client. "The witness said Mifsud pulled the woman gently by the wrist, then changed his description and held he pulled her roughly. The same change in version occurred when the accused was cross examined about the language used with Larhzali."

He argued that the charge of harassment was not substantiated with evidence as the woman did nothing that could constitute such an offence. "Had the taxi driver spoken to Larhzali in a decent manner and apologised for pulling her from the wrist, we would not be in court today."

Magistrate Ian Farrugia put off the case for 5 December for judgment. Inspector Luke Bonello prosecuted while lawyers Lucio Sciriha and Abigail Bugeja appeared for Ihssane Larhzali. Dr Gianluca Caruana Curran represented Fabian Mifsud and Emanuel Tabone.

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