The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

Elderly man charged with sexually assaulting vulnerable woman, remanded in custody

Wednesday, 20 February 2019, 18:00 Last update: about 26 days ago

An elderly man who allegedly manipulated and sexually assaulted a psychologically infirm young woman has appeared in court on Wednesday afternoon.

Police Inspectors John Spiteri and Roderick Attard arraigned Manweli Zahra 68 from Birzebbugia under arrest before magistrate Marse-Anne Farrugia. Zahra was accused of committing a sexual act on a vulnerable person and subjecting her to an act of physical intimacy or asking her for sexual favours. A protection order was requested, as was a treatment order for the accused.

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The accused had lured the woman to his house on February 17, where the alleged abuse took place, after striking up a conversation about her ex-boyfriend, said the prosecution. Once there, the accused had allegedly fondled the woman’s breasts, Inspector Spiteri said.

The police were called after the vulnerable woman, terrified and upset after the incident, spoke to a social worker.

Zahra, who walked into court with great difficulty, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Defence lawyer Yanika Bugeja, appointed as legal aid to the accused, requested bail.

The prosecution objected to the request, primarily due to the nature and severity of the charges and secondarily due to the fear that he would tamper with evidence. The alleged victim, although in her thirties, suffers from psychiatric problems and is easily manipulated to pervert the course of justice, explained Inspector Spiteri.

The prosecution said it was still premature to grant bail, pointing out that the accused had allegedly first obtained the victim’s trust and then committed the alleged assault.

Bugeja argued that the accused was presumed innocent until found guilty. The accused had a clean criminal conduct and would not try to escape or abscond due to his mobility problems. Furthermore, conditions could be imposed to protect the alleged victim, she said.

Inspector Spiteri replied that the first test of the necessity for arrest is carried out by the police. Although it was true that the accused had a clean conduct and was of a certain age, the court had in this case, a vulnerable witness who was “very easily manipulated.” The possibility of having her testify via videoconferencing was also mooted.

The court, in view of the nature of the charges and the real fear of tampering with evidence, denied bail and remanded the accused in custody.

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