A man has been cleared of blackmail and harassment charges, 12 years after criminal proceedings were launched following a report filed by a former prison inmate.
Joseph Grech, 55, was investigated as one of two suspects who, back in 2006, allegedly threatened Nikol Farrugia, making repeated demands for money, both over the phone as well as during face to face meetings.
The alleged victim has told the police that he had landed himself in an entangled web ever since, while serving a prison term, he had told a fellow inmate about his financial problems.
That inmate, Melchior Spiteri, had allegedly offered a helping hand after Mr Farrugia told him that his employee was not handing over earnings from his business.
“Leave it to me,” Mr Farrugia had allegedly been told, and true to his word, the matter had subsequently been resolved by Mr Spiteri whilst behind bars.
However, a short time later, soon, two strangers - the accused and a foreign man - started visiting and calling Mr Farrugia, who had since left prison, ultimately prompted him to file a police report.
Whilst sitting opposite Assistant Commissioner Emanuel Cassar, explaining his predicament, Mr Farrugia had received a phone call from a man whom the officer recognized as Melchior Spiteri.
“You’ve got nothing else to do with me….You must now deal with those two,” the caller had said.
Proceedings were subsequently instituted against Mr Grech and the second man for blackmail, violent threats and misuse of electronic equipment, with progress last being registered in November 2006.
A year later, proceedings continued against Mr Grech alone after the court was informed that the other accused had fled Malta.
Eleven years later, in February 2018, the case was assigned to a new court, presided over by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech who observed that “for some reason or other” no progress had been registered since October 2007.
The alleged victim was brought to testify for the first time, clearly finding it difficult to explain the reason behind the blackmail and why he had first reported that he had been asked to pay Lm9,000, later claiming that it was Lm2,000.
The man came across as being rather reluctant to testify, evidently holding back certain details which the court did not fail to notice.
A former police inspector, who had handled the prosecution, testified in May 2018, revealing how the two suspected blackmailers had been arrested when they turned up for a meeting with the alleged victim outside the Empire Cinema back in 2006.
However, the rest of the investigation remained shrouded in mystery and no reference to the outcome thereof was made, the court observed, adding that little light had been shed upon the charges issued by the prosecution.
The testimony of the alleged victim was not convincing, the court declared, describing it as “not safe let alone satisfactory.”
The rest of the evidence put forward did not even remotely prove the charges, the court concluded, adding that it could only speculate on the reasons behind the alleged threats.
In the absence of necessary proof, the court cleared the accused of all charges.
Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was defence counsel.
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