Voice messages between Malta Philarmonic Orchestra CEO Sigmund Mifsud and an official who later pleaded guilty to sexually harassing a female colleague appeared to indicate the two were plotting to turn the case against her, a court heard on Monday.
“Issa xogħolna hu li nxewxu n-nies kontriha,” (Our job is now to instigate people against her), Mifsud allegedly said in one of those messages, referred to by prosecuting Inspector Gabriel Micallef when testifying in court in proceedings against the CEO.
The victim of the abuse had turned to Mifsud to report the sexual misconduct by her colleague, who persisted even when she made it clear that his behaviour was unwelcome.
The molester, a 31-year-old Gozitan man, whose name was banned by a court, subsequently admitted to the sexual harassment upon his arraignment in October and was handed a suspended sentence and placed under a five-year restraining order.
His superior, Mifsud, was subsequently arraigned and accused of trying to tamper with evidence, as well as moral and/or psychological violence against the victim who had told him more than once about the sexual harassment she was facing at the workplace.
He is pleading not guilty.
Earlier this month, the victim was the first to take the witness stand when proceedings against the orchestra’s top official got underway, recalling her ordeal and how she was ultimately forced to quit her job as the situation affected her health.
The woman testified that although Mifsud had told her he would handle the situation involving her male colleague, nothing changed.
On Monday, Inspector Micallef shed further light upon the sexual harassment faced by the victim.
He said the woman had described how her male colleague would massage her shoulders, then move his hands down her back, just above her bottom, making her uncomfortable.
When she finally spoke out and made it clear that such touching was unwelcome, the man said he did it “because she had a bad posture.”
On one occasion, while at an event, she felt someone touch her bottom.
She turned just in time to see her colleague walk away.
At a farewell party, the victim was wearing a top with straps. The same colleague pulled down the straps and “threw something” over her, the woman had alleged.
She had reported all this to the CEO and had also shown him screenshots of sexually explicit messages sent by her colleague.
Mifsud had told her that she ought not to keep those messages, telling her to delete them and that he would handle the situation himself.
But nothing changed.
The CEO would occasionally tell her that she was “too sensitive,” and tried to pass off her colleague as “immature” or “drunk”.
As the harassment persisted and her calls for help were ignored, the woman finally sent a resignation email to the CEO and the head of human resources.
Days later, she was summoned to Mifsud’s office and warned that unless she “changed” her position, he would seek legal advice and take steps against her.
During investigations, the inspector said, the police realised that Mifsud was having meetings with orchestra employees allegedly to stop the victim from proceeding with filing a report.
After receiving the victim’s resignation email, Reuben Sammut, head of human resources, drafted an email addressed to Joyce Dimech, the culture ministry's permanent secretary, with the intention of flagging the case about the alleged sexual abuse.
But first, he had to consult the CEO.
When Sammut broached the subject with Mifsud after the weekend, the CEO’s reaction appeared to show that he had not yet read the resignation email.
Mifsud then directed Sammut not to send that email to the permanent secretary, saying he would rather discuss the matter with her personally.
Orchestra officials all appeared to have understood that Mifsud wished them to speak to the victim “because it would be better if she did not proceed,” testified Inspector Micallef.
During another meeting with orchestra members, Mifsud allegedly warned that anyone who had not spoken about the alleged abuse, “would be deemed as accomplices if they did so now,” the inspector said.
Police had also retrieved voice messages exchanged between Mifsud and the official who later admitted to the sexual harassment.
The two appeared to be plotting how to handle the case.
In one of those messages, Mifsud allegedly told the other man, “Issa xogħolna hu li nxewxu n-nies kontriha,” testified Micallef.
Mifsud was subsequently arrested.
Under interrogation, the suspect did not answer many questions and was rather evasive, the court was told.
The inspector presented a USB stick containing the recordings made by the victim.
Lawyer Edward Gatt reserved the defence’s position as to the admissibility or otherwise of those recordings, explaining that their position would be expounded further at an opportune stage.
The prosecution requested the appointment of an expert to extract data from mobile phones, including call profile and subscriber details as well as cross match analysis of the two devices.
Magistrate Gabriella Vella upheld that request.
An application filed in the records of this case by the convicted sexual offender, requesting to retrieve his mobile phone, was turned down by the court.
Finally, the court declared that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for Mifsud to face trial on indictment.
The case continues in January.
Inspector Kevin Pulis also prosecuted.
Lawyer Edward Gatt was defence counsel.
Lawyers Ilenia Agius and Roberto Spiteri appeared parte civile.
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