Updated | ‘John Rizzo threatened to crucify me like Christ’, accused tells jury

George Xuereb tells jurors that former police commissioner threatened to crucify him during questioning; Rizzo says fingerprints, mobile phone, and safe house all implicate accused in failed 1996 bank heist

Former police commissioner John Rizzo is alleged to have threatened to
Former police commissioner John Rizzo is alleged to have threatened to "crucify" a man during questioning.

A man accused of being an accomplice in a foiled bank robbery in 1996 and of the attempted murder of two police officers has this evening claimed that former police commissioner John Rizzo threatened “to crucify him like Christ.”

The remark was made this evening by George Xuereb, 49, of Marsa, who in an attempt to convince the jurors that he was not part of the gang that carried out the failed bank heist, testified in his own trial by jury.

The attempted robbery has since seen Joseph Polidano, known as Zeppi l-Gharbi, and Carmelo Spiteri, known as ‘Il-Bizabellu’ jailed for ten years.

Denying his involvement in the case, Xuereb insisted that he had never met and did not know any of the other men, and blamed his former wife for the way he became implicated in the case.

“The first time I heard of the case was when [former police commissioner] John Rizzo questioned me. During my third interrogation, the police arrested me late at night, locked me in a small room, and started barraging me with questions amid shouting and anger.”

“There, a team of around 20 policemen, including then-police commissioner George Grech questioned me. I was not given any warnings or notified of my rights, and Rizzo told me that he would crucify me like Christ,” he alleged.

“I never trusted him, and now, after 18 years of martyrdom, I thank God that I did not,” he said.  

After hearing the “serious” allegations leveled at Rizzo, the prosecution called on the court to summon John Rizzo so that the latter could rebut the claims. However, the plea was turned down by Judge Michael Mallia, who insisted that this was a matter of credibility, and that consequently “the veracity of the claims should be established by the jurors themselves.”

In between sobs, Xuereb explained that the key to the safe house where convicted criminal Carmelo Spiteri had vanished, as was his mobile phone which the police used to track down Spiteri.

The court heard that at the time of the failed bank heist, he had had several problems with his then wife, Carmen Moran, and that he had heard rumours that she was cheating on him with one of the would be robbers, Amadeo Brincat.

“After spending 10 months and a week in preventive custody, I started to connect the dots. I had a lot of time think. When I see how my mobile vanished and ended up in the possession of Spiteri, how the key to the safe house went missing and how a plastic bag had my fingerprints, they all formed part of the jigsaw puzzle,” he said.

“I have never seen these people. I do not know how Spiteri managed to enter into the house. To this day, I still beg the question myself,” Xuereb said when asked the prosecution.

Asked why the jury should believe him and not other witnesses, Xuereb said that he had been “waiting for this moment for 18 years.”

“I am telling the truth, I have been waiting for this moment for 18 years. Whenever I went to bed, I always thought about this moment, never in 18 years have I slept with my mind at rest. I was living in a cage,” Xuereb said.

John Rizzo says fingerprints, safe house and mobile phone implicate accused in bank heist

Earlier, former police commissioner John Rizzo, who in 1996 was an inspector, said the accused had the “only” key to the safe house where Carmelo Spiteri was found hiding.

Rizzo explained that when the house originally belonged to Xuereb’s grandmother, who in turn handed it down to her ten children, one of whom gave the key to his nephew.

The accused, George Xuereb, admitted that he had the only key and insisted that he had not authorised anyone to use the house.

Rizzo said that a moth after the heist took place, police managed track Carmelo Spiteri through his mobile phone. After carrying out further investigations, it transpired that the mobile phone – which at the time was quite a rare commodity – had originally been owned by George Xuereb.

When the police went to the safe house, the key did not match the lock, fuelling suspicion that someone had changed the lock. Grilled by the prosecution, Rizzo explained that the safe house, mobile phone and fingerprints all led back to the accused.

The accused, however, was adamant that he had not changed the lock.

‘Mastermind’ says he only met accused after foiled bank heist

Eaelier, former convict Carmelo Spiteri, the self-described “mastermind” of the failed heist on a Mid-Med Bank branch in 1996 said he only met the accused, George Xuereb, after the attempted theft.

Summoned by the prosecution this morning, Carmelo Spiteri, known as ‘Il-Bizabellu’ – who in 2003 was jailed for ten years for the holdup– told the court that only three persons were involved in the heist: himself, the now-deceased Amadeo Brincat, and Joseph Polidano, known as Zeppi l-Għarbi.

Giving a detailed account of the plan and what happened during the robbery, Spiteri never mentioned the accused at any time, insisting that they never met or spoke prior to the failed heist.

“I was the mastermind. Amadeo Brincat and I met two weeks before and placed the weapons and balaclavas in a house in Qormi,” he said.

Inside the house – where a certain Carmen lived – the robbers had placed shotguns, a revolver, balaclavas, and boiler suits. Spiteri also explained that when Brincat had asked him about Carmen, he had told him that he need not worry.

Grilled by the prosecution, Spiteri said he had planned the heist with Joseph Polidano, who also served 10 years in jail over the attempted robbery.

On the day of the robbery, Spiteri explained, he, Polidano and Brincat had met in Zabbar.

“We then drove to St Andrew’s in a stolen White Golf with the weapons and balaclavas in plastic bags, and jumped into a stolen white van that was already parked near the bank,” Carmelo Spiteri said.

Spiteri also explained that Brincat and Polidano were the first to run into the bank and he quickly followed them. He recounted that Brincat had struck the police guard with a shotgun and stole his weapon.

“After some time, Polidano said that the bank was surrounded (by police). We abandoned the plan and ran out of the bank. When I got out, Brincat was already in the van while Polidano was in a pool of blood after being shot. I helped him into the van and drove off in the direction of Paceville” he said.

Subsequently, the court heard, the bank robbers dropped Polidano off near the Wembley Garages in St Julian’s. Spiteri and Brincat then drove off in Brincat’s maroon Daewoo before dropping their weapons off in Birkirkara and drove to a Qormi residence where he lived for more than a month “to get away from police and hide the evidence.”

Spiteri also claimed that he was not hit by any bullets in the police shootout and insisted that he did not fire any shots.

Notwithstanding Spiteri’s claim, court expert Mario Scerri told the court that medical tests carried out almost two months after the crime had revealed that Spiteri had in fact been hit by a bullet which had fractured the small bone of his shin.

Scerri explained that the flower and butterfly tattoos were “home-made and seemed fresh when compared to the other tattoos.” The court expert explained that further examinations revealed that the tattoos were covering the bullet’s entry point and exit wounds.

Lawyers Lara Lanfranco and Kevin Valletta are leading the prosecution, while Lawyer Raphael Fenech Adami is defence counsel.