Jeweller tells court thieves 'cleaned out' his office in €400,000 October burglary

Magistrate releases accused from arrest against €2500 deposit and €10,000 guarantee

File photo
File photo

Magistrate Monica Vella has heard the owner of a jewellery business describe how thieves had “cleaned out” his Attard office as the compilation of evidence against two men accused of stealing some €400,000 worth of items from it.

40 year-old Josuel Farrugia from Qrendi and Anthony Rapa, 52, from Mtarfa stand accused of aggravated theft, criminal damage, and in Josuel Farrugia’s case, recidivism.

The shop in question had been robbed on 28 October by two masked men, who made off with the safe and €400,000.

During the men’s arraignment in December 2021, CID Inspector Joseph Mercieca, prosecuting together with Inspector Christabel Chetcuti, told the court that police had recognised Rapa from footage extracted from CCTV cameras both inside and outside the shop. After Rapa’s arrest, further investigations on an unlicensed Tata Indica seen in the footage, had led to the arrest of Farrugia.

Mercieca exhibited a crowbar and other items seized by the police during various searches.

Magistrate Monica Vella was told that Rapa could not attend Friday’s sitting as he was in quarantine. His lawyer, Daniel Attard declared that there was no objection that the case continue in his client’s absence.

Diamond trader Dr. Mohab Fahmi took the stand. He said he  owns a company which carries out business services and which had recently branched out into jewellery services.

He recalled how he had been abroad when he was called up by his office manager, Ruth Grixti, who had informed him of the fact that the office door had been forced open, he said. Grixti would take care of the business in his absence, explained the witness.

He had told her to go upstairs and check if the safe was still there. Only himself and Grixti had the combinations to the safe, he said. His business had been a low security operation, with no burglar alarm installed at the time and a simple lock. Internet connected CCTV cameras had broadcast the burglary to him.

“They cleaned us out. They physically removed the safe which was bolted to the wall. There was gold, cash, pure gold, pieces I had made myself, jewellery belonging to clients…”

It contained around €40-50,000 cash and at least €200,000 worth of items. 1.5kg of pure gold and precious items worth thousands.

He had to make replacements for the third party owned items stolen.

Safe had been bolted to the wall with four rawlbolts, Fahmi told the court. “I think we lost about half a million to €600,000 [worth of items]”. He had given a court-appointed expert an exact list of the items that had been in the stolen safe, he said. The witness presented a 15-page list of items to the court.

“The people who came in knew exactly what they were coming for. It is not a jewellery store, it is an office and you would have to know what I do for a living to know what was there.”

The alarm system installed at the time was not state of the art, he said. Not designed to call anyone and had probably been switched off unintentionally. The business had 7 or 8 employees at the time.

Anthony Vella, a casual delivery driver with the company testified next. He said that he had started work at around 8:30am and as he was about to open the office’s front door he noticed it was ajar. The hinges had been turned, indicating a break in. He did not touch anything and called up the office manager. Later he was called by Fahmi and asked to go inside, where he confirmed that the office had been raided and that the safe was missing.

The office manager who had called the police was next to testify, giving the court her account, which corroborated that of the previous witnesses.

Lawyer Franco Debono thanked the court for hearing the case quickly. Now that civilian witness had testified, he said the defence did not see a reason for the defendants’ continued detention. They had strong ties to the community and there was no substantial impediment to their release.

Lawyer Joseph Sammut said that the accused’s presumption of innocence was strengthened by the fact that there were doubts about his involvement.

Lawyer Daniel Attard, for Rapa, said that his client had cooperated with the police and always attended appointments, having been given police bail five times.

Inspector Mercieca said that any bail decree should reflect the seriousness of the case. Both accused had two addresses and needed to indicate which address they were actually using, he added. Rapa was a squatter at an abandoned Mtarfa army barracks, said the inspector.

Farrugia told the court that he worked as a watchman and worked alternate nights. Franco Debono suggested that any bail decree stipulate that he be allowed out at night only for work purposes.

Magistrate Vella upheld Farrugia’s bail request, in view of the fact that the most sensitive civilian witnesses had been heard. He was ordered to sign a bail book 3 times a week and observe a curfew on the days when he was not working watchman duty.

Farrugia was ordered to deposit €2500 and provide a personal guarantee of €10,000 to secure his release from arrest.

Rapa was also released on bail on similar conditions.

Lawyer Daniel Attard appeared for Rapa, whilst lawyers Franco Debono and Joseph Sammut represented Farrugia in the proceedings.