Man cleared of loan-sharking notorious conman

The court acquitted the man after observing the case was based on the testimony of a con artist

A man has been acquitted of charges relating to drug trafficking and usury after a court observed that the case was based on the testimony of conman and serial fraudster Duncan Buttigieg.

37-year-old Conrad Axisa of Ghaxaq had been charged nine years ago with cocaine trafficking, aggravated possession of cocaine, simple possession of cocaine, usury and threatening Buttigieg.

Buttigieg had told Drug Squad police officers that Axisa had been his cocaine supplier for around two years, and that Axisa was threatening him over an outstanding debt of €600, for which he was charging usurious interest rates.

The man, who in the intervening years had a number of convictions for fraud, had claimed that Axisa had threatened to shoot him in the knees or blow off his legs, leaving him too terrified to leave his house, until he finally went to the police to report the alleged threats.

Police officers had searched Axisa’s home, finding some drug paraphernalia and traces of cocaine, as well as empty plastic sachets with their corners snipped off, lying in a dustbin.

As proceedings progressed, a court-appointed expert had testified that apart from half a Viagra pill, only traces of cocaine had been found.

Axisa had taken the stand to deny the charges, telling the court that Buttigieg had made up the tall tale to get out of having to pay €500 of €600 lent to him by the accused.

The accused had conceded that the drug traces found at his home were from a time when he had been mourning the loss of his mother, and had resorted to using cocaine.

Faced with two diametrically opposed versions of events, magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras pointed out that any possible conviction depended upon the credibility or otherwise of the prosecution’s prime witness - Buttigieg.

The court observed a number of inconsistencies in Buttigieg’s testimony. It noted that the accused had been sent a message by his alleged victim asking: “Shall I come on Saturday so that you might take photos for my passport?”

This pointed to Buttigieg not being “terrified” of the accused, as he had claimed. The accused had answered that message with a refusal to take the photos until the debt had been settled, noted the court.

Above all, none of the exhibits recovered from the home of the accused showed any link to drug trafficking.

In addition, the magistrate had heard Duncan Buttigieg’s own uncle testify to his nephew’s penchant for borrowing money and then threatening to report the lender to the police when faced with a request for repayment.

Looking at Buttigieg’s criminal record, the court said this shed a lot of light on his character and past conduct, which negatively affected his credibility as a witness.

Axisa was acquitted of all charges, bar simple possession of cocaine, for which he was fined €90 and ordered to pay €199 in costs.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel to Axisa.

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