Last updated 12.20pm with arraignment.
Two police constables were on Sunday charged with abducting and grievously injuring foreign nationals in Qormi.
Rica Mifsud Grech, 22, of Floriana, and Jurgen Falzon, 24, of Sta Venera, were also jointly charged with crimes against human dignity. They were arraigned under arrest at noon and pleaded not guilty.
A third constable is being treated at Mater Dei Hospital after complaining of chest pains and is set to be charged on release by medical experts.
Police inspector Joe Mercieca, prosecuting, gave the court an overview of the case.
He said that on Friday, police officers had made a complaint to an internal police body on professional standards about their colleagues.
The complaint was made against three police officers stationed in Hamrun who allegedly abducted people and took them to Qormi, assaulted them, and left them there.
The incidents allegedly occurred between September 2 and 3 and again at a later date in September.
One victim was identified and spoken to while another had been interviewed but not yet spoken to by investigators.
The accused made a request for bail, saying they were presumed innocent at this point.
Inspector Mercieca objected, saying police were still trying to track down one of the alleged victims.
Defence: These were young officers working in a difficult district
Defence lawyer Edmond Cuschieri, appearing on behalf of Falzon, argued that the accused were young officers, working in a tough district, in a system that had gone to the dogs in Marsa and Hamrun.
There was no report by any of these alleged victims, no proof of injuries.
Lawyer Veronique Dalli , appearing for Mifsud Grech raised concerns about the motivation behind the report filed by other officers. “Perhaps they had their own reasons for doing so, but I will stop there for now,” she said.
Dalli said the charges sounded serious, but there was no actual abduction, but rather officers responding to a case in a difficult neighbourhood.
Objecting to this, the prosecution said that this was not a simple case of excessive use of force. Rather, this was a case of officers taking a person to a place out in the middle of nowhere, assaulting them, and leaving them there.
Magistrate Joe Mifsud denied the request and both officers were remanded in custody.
He said the public expected to be kept safe by police officers. No one should be assaulted, nor assault someone, during the exercise of their duty.
While the accused are presumed innocent, the court could not ignore the gravity of the charges.
Police Commissioner: We acted immediately
Earlier on Sunday, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa explained how on Friday he was informed of the alleged abuse by the constables, who were arrested immediately.
He said none of the alleged victims had ever made any reports to the police.
Commissioner Gafa said the police took these matters very seriously and immediate action was taken as soon as the report was first received.
The Sunday, Times of Malta reported that the constables repeated their crime multiple times over the past weeks and that the practices involved other forms of humiliation.
Gafa confirmed that from preliminary investigations it appeared that there had been more than one incident. Later, he said the police were aware of at least two incidents that happened on different days.
He said the officers had not been responding to any report but had rather allegedly abducted the victims, indicating that this may have been a premeditated incident.
Asked if this was a racially motivated attack, the commissioner said it was not conclusive whether the victims were black, but that they were foreign nationals. The injuries were not life-threatening but one of the charges will be of causing grievous bodily harm.
The constables are two men and one woman, who worked the same shift.
Senior police sources said an investigation was immediately opened on Friday after they received the reports. Magistrate Elaine Mercieca is leading an inquiry into the incident.
Investigators are trying to identify all the assault victims to call them in for questioning.
All three constables are young members of the police force, with one having graduated from the police training academy less than a year ago.
One of the suspects was hospitalised on Friday evening after learning of the suspension and probe.
“We will never tolerate such incidents and illegitimate force. The fact that we introduced a system of anonymous reporting helped with exposing this case,” a senior police source said.
“The police corps will not tolerate any such episodes from its members, the majority of whom carry out their duty with honour.”
Police sources who spoke to Times of Malta noted that the problem could be a symptom of the fact that fewer people are interested in joining the force and the profession is worryingly attracting the wrong people. One source questioned whether enough due diligence is being carried out to weed out any potential troublemakers.
The same concerns had been raised for some new recruits joining the Armed Forces of Malta. In 2019, Lassana Cisse, a black Ivorian, was gunned down as he walked home at night. Two soldiers have been charged with his murder.