The Malta Independent 12 December 2018, Wednesday

Man cleared of extortion charges, court highlights ‘hidden’ investigation

Tuesday, 4 December 2018, 15:50 Last update: about 8 days ago

A man has been cleared of trying to extort money, with a court noting that much of the police investigation - including its conclusions - remained under wraps, ten years on.

Joseph Grech and another man were charged with threatening Nikol Farrugia, using violence to force him to do something, misuse of telecommunications equipment, insulting and threatening her and relapsing.

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In 2006, police started investigating a report of extortion and harassment made by Nikol Farrugia against two men, one of whom is not Maltese. They were demanding Lm9,000 from him. He had reported the matter to then Assistant Police Commissioner Emanuel Cassar.

Whilst Farrugia was explaining his complaint, he received a phone call from prison. Cassar was listening in and recognised Melchior Spiteri’s voice telling Farrugia to give the money to the men and from now on to deal with them not him.

Farrugia had explained to the court that he had opened up to Spiteri whilst serving a sentence in prison and had told him that his employee was not passing on the money from his business to him. Spiteri had promised to “take care of it myself” and this had happened.  Farrugia had explained that he thought it was about this because he had never borrowed money.

A number of phones and call profiles were exhibited. These corroborated the injured party’s claim that he was being called from prison but strangely, said the court, the prosecution did not even try to prove the connection between the number, presumably belonging to Nikol Farrugia’s son and Nikol Farrugia. Therefore these calls could never be linked to him, said the court.

No progress was registered in the case for an entire decade, spanning October 2007 and October 2017.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, who was assigned the case in October 2017 observed that the former prosecuting inspector Chris Pullicino had only testified in May 2018 “after many efforts to notify him.” Pullicino had testified as to the meeting that he was informed Farrugia would have with the two extortionists near the Empire Cinema, where they were arrested.

“However, the rest of the investigation remains hidden and no other mention of the findings, in particular about what made the police think that Farrugia was being extorted, choosing to believe him so much that it had charged the accused.”

Nikol Farrugia had also failed to convince the court that he was giving the whole truth. He insisted that he was being followed and harassed by the accused to pay them Lm2000. He could not explain what they wanted the money for, he said, confirming that there were never any threats by Grech. It was another man who had once shown him a mobile phone photo of his house as a threat, he had said.

The court noted that Farrugia’s testimony was unconvincing and that he had clearly withheld certain details, which meant that the court could not rely on his testimony. The prosecution had also never told the court what the money was allegedly used for.

“The court can only speculate why he now ended up dealing with them after Spiteri gave a clear indication that after taking care of his problem, Farrugia was to continue business with the accused.

Nikol Farrugia knew very well what the actual amount requested by the accused was and whether it was Lm9000 as he had told the police or Lm2000, as he had testified and why they were insisting on payment, said the magistrate.

“It is somewhat providential that while he was in the presence of the Assistant Commissioner of Police when he was called up from prison and likewise a lucky coincidence that the accused were arrested when they went to the place where they had arranged to meet Farrugia for payment!” she remarked.

Magistrate Frendo Dimech said that the rest of the evidence “did not remotely substantiate” the accusations.
For this reason the court found him not guilty and cleared him of all charges.

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