Two eyewitnesses saw a man being kidnapped in broad daylight but took no action as they did not think anything suspicious was going on, a court heard on Tuesday.
A magistrate heard testimony from people who had a chance encounter with the January 21 incident, in which Carlos Schembri was beaten and abducted before he managed to escape and make it to a police station.
Five men - Christian Borg, 28, Thorne Mangion, 27, Tyson Grech, 26, Burton Azzopardi, 20 and Jeremy Borg, 20 – stand accused of abducting Schembri, forcing him into a van, interrogating him over his suspected involvement in vehicle thefts, while punching him and threatening to chop off his finger and rape his sister.
Schembri has testified that he was forced into a van while he waited for his sister outside a garage on Triq it-Tabija in Rabat.
'It was none of my business'
A woman who lives on that street told a court on Tuesday that she had seen a white van opposite her house and heard men yelling “Carlos, get out” as Schembri sat inside his car.
She spotted blood on Schembri’s face but thought that the men were friends of his who were taking him to a health centre.
“I went back inside. It was none of my business,” she said, adding that she had simply looked outside “out of curiosity.”
She could supply no further details. “It was just a van to me."
Another neighbour on that road was also observing the scene, though his view was partially blocked by the white van.
Terence Galea told a court that he heard “shouting….like groaning,” and saw two or three people.
But he thought they were just fooling around, he testified.
“There seemed to be no violence. They did not appear to be aggressive. But then I realised that something was happening,” he went on.
The van was blocking his view, though, and he then suddenly heard its sliding door slam shut before the van drove away.
One of the men, who he described as dark and “rather plump” remained behind. The witness said that person could “possibly” be one of the accused, Jeremy Borg. Borg then left the area on foot, heading in the direction of Nigret.
“Let me make it clear. I know none of these persons. I know absolutely nothing,” Galea stressed when caught in the cross-fire between the defence and prosecution lawyers.
Fuel station attendant saw nothing unusual
Another witness to the incident was a fuel station attendant who worked at the Fgura fuel station where Schembri managed to give his abductors the slip.
Francis Galea recalled a big white van pulling into the station, then driving off again towards Zabbar just as he stepped out to attend to it.
Galea said he did not give the incident a second thought and got back to work. Police then approached him the following day, asking to see CCTV footage.
When he watched the footage in the presence of officers, he noticed somebody exit the rear end of the van and run off, while the driver got out too.
But further questioning by AG lawyer Karl Muscat appeared to irritate the witness who snapped, “Don’t beat around the bush, don’t twist my words. I saw nothing that day. All was calm. What I saw was on the footage.”
A further comment that he was “wasting time in court,” earned him a sharp rebuke from Magistrate Monica Vella, who pointed out that “when summoned to court he was doing his duty as a citizen.”
A woman whose parents lease the Rabat garage to Schembri said that she collected the monthly rent payment from him. She testified that on the day after the incident, she received a call purporting to be from the sanitation department, asking about a garage.
It was a Saturday and she thought the call strange. She told the court that she had given the number to the police.
Co-accused had filed police report
Inspector Sarah Kathleen Zerafa also testified, telling the court that Christian Borg had reported six vehicles stolen at Marsascala police station.
He told officers that he had questioned Schembri about the thefts and said Schembri had told him that one of the stolen vehicles, a van, was at a garage belonging to brothers Alessio and Charlton Magro.
The Magro brothers told the police that Schembri had brought them the van without number plates.
Tension in the courtroom ratcheted up a notch when Martina Xuereb, the victim’s sister took the stand.
Xuereb said that she was due to meet her brother that afternoon. But when she got to the Rabat garage, the door was shut and his car was parked outside, with its doors unlocked. There were blood smears inside the vehicle on the driver’s side.
She texted her brother, but while the messages were marked as seen, he did not reply. That was very unusual, she said.
She later got a call from her mother asking whether she knew Tyson Grech. She and Grech were friends on Facebook, and so she messaged him asking for her brother’s keys and mobile phone.
The next day, she received ten missed calls. When she took one of those calls, the caller warned her that “she and her family would bear the responsibility of all that had not been done to her brother.”
Bail denied following menacing move
At that point in the courtroom, Grech pulled down his mask and smiled at the witness.
That gesture did not go unnoticed by the magistrate, who asked Grech whether he was trying to intimidate the witness.
Grech’s gesture would go on to cost him bail.
After lengthy submissions by both the defence and the prosecution, the court upheld bail requests for Christian Borg and Jeremy Borg but turned down Grech’s.
Grech’s gesture to the witness, the magistrate said, did not give the court assurance that he would abide by bail conditions.
Christian Borg and Jeremy Borg were granted bail against a deposit of €3000, a personal guarantee of €5000 each, signing the bail book twice weekly and abiding by a curfew between 11:00pm and 6:00am.
The court also issued a protection order, warning the accused not to approach or contact the alleged victim and his family in any way.
Mangion and Azzopardi were granted bail at the previous sitting last week.
The court finally declared that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for all five co-accused to stand trial.
The case continues in March.
Inspectors Roderick Attard and Sarah Kathleen Zerafa prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyers Karl Muscat and Francesco Refalo.
Lawyers Giannella de Marco, Gianluca Caruana Curran, Michael Sciriha, Robert Spiteri, Franco Debono, Francesca Zarb and Jason Grima appeared as defence counsel.
Lawyers Edward Gatt and Shaun Zammit are assisting victim's family.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us