Two men this morning pleaded not guilty to making off with a haul of cigarettes, cash and jewellery valued at around €70,000 from the garage of a private residence in Iklin.

Kevin Tabone, a 40-year-old electrician from Santa Luċija and Johan Pace, 39 from Valletta, who is unemployed, pleaded not guilty to the charges of aggravated theft and handling stolen goods before Magistrate Audrey Demicoli.

Mr Pace was also charged with being a repeat offender.

Prosecuting officers Arthur Mercieca and Sandra Zammit objected to the accused being released from custody in view of the value of the stolen goods and the fact that civilian witnesses had yet to testify.

Moreover, Mr Pace had a tarnished criminal record. Inspector Mercieca also told the court that the police had found it difficult to trace Mr Pace since his identity card did not reflect his actual address.

Lawyer Giannella de Marco, appearing for Mr Tabone, pointed out that the alleged crime was carried out on November 12 last year. Her client, she continued, had first been investigated in November of last year, arrested and subsequently released on police bail, which was then extended and ultimately lifted.

It is understood that the police re-arrested the two men after fresh evidence emerged.

"The police trusted him - there is therefore no reason for the court not to," Dr de Marco said, pointing out that the accused did not try to tamper with the evidence. Her client, she continued, was an electrician who owned his own company and employed others. He also had a clean criminal record and there was no reason why bail could not be granted.

Lawyer Joe Giglio, appearing for Mr Pace, drew the court's attention to the fact that the alleged crime had occurred six months ago and that the prosecution did not say that any tampering with the evidence had occurred.

"It is easy to cite a fear of tampering. But throughout this period nothing happened. Why is there, now, a reason to apply the exception and not the rule?"

Dr Giglio also questioned the identity of the alleged witnesses, adding that from the information the defence had been given, there were ocular witnesses who spotted two people wearing a hoodie who entered the residence and carried some objects into a van. The witnesses did not identify the perpetrators as the accused.

Mr Pace's previous criminal offence, he continued, was one which went back some years and he was presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

The court released Mr Tabone on bail against a deposit of €1,000 deposit and a personal guarantee of €3,000. Mr Pace was granted bail against a deposit of €1,000 and a personal guarantee of €4,000.

Lawyer Charlon Gouder appeared as parte civile for the victim. 

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