A heated argument over a taxi fare landed the driver in court and gave an unpleasant twist to an elderly French couple’s holiday in Malta.
Emilio Persiano, a 49-year-old taxi driver, pleaded not guilty to willfully damaging third party property, slightly injuring the couple as well as breaching the peace during the violent incident which allegedly took place on Sunday evening outside a five-star hotel.
It all began when the couple, a 75-year-old Frenchman from southern France and his wife, approached a cab on their way out of Valletta, asking the driver how much it would cost to accompany them back to their hotel at Golden Bay.
The man had allegedly indicated the fare as €25, making hand gestures to make himself understood given that the Frenchman only spoke some English and his wife, none at all.
Both husband and wife took the witness stand on Thursday, recalling-with the assistance of an interpreter- their alleged ordeal when, after the half-hour journey, the man had handed over €25 to the cab driver who had signalled that he was owed €10 more, insisting that the agreed fare had been €35.
A verbal argument broke out at that point, soon degenerating into physical violence when the driver allegedly tried to block the tourist’s attempt to walk to the hotel.
At one point, the driver allegedly hit the Frenchman, sending his spectacles and one hearing aid flying, the victim recalled, pointing at the man in the dock, stating, 'Oui, c’est lui', (Yes it’s him) when asked whether he could identify the alleged aggressor in court.
The commotion had prompted a female hotel manager to call security assistance, while the Frenchman’s wife had stepped in between the warring men to break up the quarrel.
The woman, who admitted to not speaking English and “very little” understanding of the language, nonetheless, insisted that the driver had hit her husband while trying to stop him from getting away and had also hit her in the scuffle, even if unintentionally so.
She had even hastily handed over a further €10 note to the driver in an attempt to put an end to the dispute.
The couple were later advised to file a police report since “such attacks on tourists were not to be allowed,” the couple explained in court.
However, when defence lawyer Malcolm Mifsud questioned the alleged victims, a different version emerged with the lawyer suggesting that the Frenchman had first asked the taxi driver to take them to the “Radisson”.
After being told that the fare would be €20, the man had added “Radisson Golden Bay,” to which the driver had replied that the fare would be €30.
This version was denied by the Frenchman. “Not true,” he said.
“You pushed him [the driver] once, twice and then when you were going at him a third time he reacted,” Dr Mifsud said.
“I’m 75. I could not do that,” retorted the man, later turning upon the lawyer and telling him to “shut up” when further questions were to be put, earning a sharp word by presiding magistrate Doreen Clarke.
“If he spoke to a lawyer in this manner, let alone to the taxi driver,” Dr Mifsud promptly remarked.
“A tourist does not attack a taxi driver,” insisted the elderly man who claimed further that the incident had damaged his €400-worth spectacles and one hearing aid, worth €2,000, was missing. In spite of searching for it outside the hotel, the device had not been found, he said.
After the couple had testified, the defence lawyer requested bail which was granted against a deposit of €300, a personal guarantee of €1,000 and a duty to sign the bail book once weekly.
“This was an incident sparked by a misunderstanding and blown out of all proportion,” argued the lawyer.
The prosecution requested an urgent hearing since the couple were to testify before leaving Malta early next week.
The case continues.
Inspector Paula Ciantar prosecuted.