Bailed murder suspect granted bail again on armed robbery charges

A Libyan man currently on bail for a 2005 murder has been granted bail after being arrested in Qormi, in connection with an attempted break-in

A Libyan man, who is on bail for the 2005 murder of Simon Grech, has been granted bail after being arrested by police in Mosta late on Sunday in connection with an attempted break-in in Qormi.

News reports say that the police had moved in after being informed that Ismael Habesh was hiding at a residence in the Tarġa Gap area of Mosta.

Police officers had cordoned off the surrounding area, before storming the house and arresting the Libyan at around 10.00 pm on Sunday, after receiving a report of a shooting in Victory Street, Qormi. Officers reportedly found no evidence of a shooting, but investigations revealed that a Mercedes with three persons inside was held up at gunpoint by “foreign persons” armed with rifles who demanded €20,000 from the driver.

Tile layer Habesh, 46, is currently on bail awaiting trial for the murder of Simon Grech in Marsa, in 2005, and has a number of other convictions for theft, slight injury and knife-crime dating back to the early 2000s, up till as recently as 2014. He had also been accused of holding a pen-knife to a man's neck during a robbery in 2011, but was cleared of this charge in 2016.

This morning, police Inspectors Saviour Baldacchino and Roderick Agius arraigned the Libyan on charges of aggravated theft, carrying a weapon during the commission of a crime against the person, carrying arms in public without the necessary license, making threats, failing to inform the Commissioner of Police that he had come into possession of a firearm for which he had no license, breaching the peace, breaching his bail conditions and recidivism.

Defence lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia entered a plea of not guilty and requested bail. “The charges give the impression that the crime is more serious than it is,” argued the defence.

Inspector Baldacchino objected to the man's release, pointing out that Habesh appeared to know the victims and other persons involved “quite well.” There are witnesses who are yet to testify, he said. Inspector Roderick Agius added that the victim and two other passengers in the car, as well as three other persons who were in a nearby shop and who are regulars there, had not given their depositions yet.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, appearing parte civile for the owner of the stolen vehicle, informed the court that, on his part, he had no fear that the accused would approach his client.

Debono added that there was CCTV footage of the incident, which further reduced the ability of the accused to tamper with evidence.

Inspector Baldacchino emphasised that the accused had failed to sign his bail book on at least one occasion and that “he had not failed to sign by accident.”

“The crime also involves the use of weapons,” added the inspector. “It isn't exactly a light case”.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit granted Habesh bail on condition that he appears for every court sitting, doesn't try to leave the islands, does not contact any of the victims directly or indirectly, or enter the town of Qormi. He is also bound to sign a bail book every day and observe a curfew, against a deposit of €1000 and a personal guarantee of €9000.