A Romanian pickpocket has been jailed for two months after unwittingly selecting as his target a plainclothes policeman.

Valeriu Moraru, 40, was aboard a bus passing through Tower Road, Sliema, when he attempted to nick the belongings off another passenger, who turned out to be an undercover policeman.

The man was apprehended and charged with attempted theft, which was not completed due to an accidental cause independent of his will.

Prosecuting officer Jonathan Ransley told Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech that Malta used to be considered a safe destination, and he called for a sentence which would send a message and deter foreign criminals, who were responsible for a rising number of police reports.

Lawyer Mark Mifsud Cutajar highlighted the fact that the accused had entered an early guilty plea, that the attempted theft was simple in nature and that the accused had a clean criminal record.

Magistrate Frendo Dimech pointed out that the criminal record would only list crimes committed in Malta. She asked the prosecution if it would have been possible to obtain an updated criminal record through EU channels, pointing out that the tools were in place to counteract the free movement of people.

However, the prosecution said that the process was a complex one and they could not obtain the relevant information within the stipulated arrest period of 48 hours.

The defence pointed out that the accused had no job, no home and no money, adding that he wished to return to his country next week but only had €50 on his person.

"That's why I stole," the accused, who has been in Malta since April 23, said. He said he would ask for his relatives abroad to send him some money.

The defence also argued in favour of a suspended sentence, positing the fact that there was a common misconception that a suspended sentence was a mild sentence. “You have a sword dangling over the person's head. The court's reach over a person with, say, a two-year suspended sentence would be stronger than putting him behind bars for a week, only for him to return to his old ways after serving his sentence."

The court however said that, bearing in mind his current state, the accused had little reason not to reoffend and sentenced him to two months imprisonment.

Inspector Mark Mercieca also prosecuted.