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Man in dead cat find ‘did not work at food outlet’

My business has been killed – restaurant owner

Preparing lunch at Oriental Garden restaurant, yesterday.

Preparing lunch at Oriental Garden restaurant, yesterday.

The Chinese man arrested after cat carcasses were allegedly discovered in his van on Friday did not work at the restaurant where he was apprehended, according to the manager of Mr Wang Restaurant in Marsascala.

The man was at the restaurant as a client when two police officers came in asking whether the van’s owner was dining there, manager Helena Vardas told The Times yesterday. Another manager at the restaurant pointed him out and he was interrogated by the officers, she said.

“They opened the van, which we saw was empty. It stank but we know it is used to carry meat. They did not find anything in it – no animals, nothing.

“The officers informed us what was going on and gave us clearance after checking the kitchen, including the food,” said Ms Vardas, eager to clear the restaurant’s name.

Sources had told The Sunday Times that the man is responsible for cooking for 200 Chinese workers at Ħal Far barracks, whose manager has, however, denied any connection with the find.

A police search on Saturday uncovered nothing suspicious at the complex.

News that a man had been arrested at a Chinese restaurant, just days after concern about missing cats hit the social media, saw people cancelling their bookings and making disparaging comments about Chinese cuisine.

The owner of the Pavilion Chinese Restaurant in Ta’ Xbiex, Jessica Do Nascimento, said that when the news got out, people immediately started calling the restaurant to see whether it was related to the case.

She added that unfortunately people tended to generalise, and the case cast a shadow on all Chinese outlets.

In Marsascala, Chinese restaurants seem to be having an even harder time.

The owner of Grand China restaurant, Lina Che, reported that half of Saturday’s bookings had been cancelled.

“My business has been killed. I spent thousands on my restaurant, and now I cannot sleep with worry,” Ms Che told The Times, adding that her restaurant was not related “in any way” to the arrest.

The turn of events “ruined” the reputation of the Chinese restaurants in the area and fuelled the belief that “the Chinese ate everything”.

“It is unfair on the rest that have been residing here for a long time, and do everything in a legitimate manner.

“I’d be very angry at this Chinese man if the allegations about what he did to the cats turn out to be true.

“And if they are true, he – and not the Chinese restaurants in Marsascala – should be given a hard time,” she added.

Another Marsascala restau-rant owner, John Portelli, described the consumers’ reaction as “scary”.

Mr Portelli opened The Oriental Garden on Gardiel Street some 16 years ago and has built a good reputation.

On Saturdays his restaurant serves about 120 clients but when the news spread, only 40 people turned up for dinner.

“The drastic drop is scary. People are still calling to cancel their bookings. Group bookings fall easily if one of the diners expresses concern. People’s perception changed overnight, and I am afraid this case will affect the festive season bookings... We are in limbo,” Mr Portelli added.

The restaurant owner insisted that the Oriental Garden restaurant was not related in any way to the arrest, and his chef, who has been working at the restaurant for 11 years, was scared of cats, putting paid to any notion that he might prepare them for dinner.

The police were informed about the presence of the van in Gardiel Street at 8.30pm on Friday. They were following an initial tip-off from a pet shop owner who took note of the number plate after the Animal Welfare Department issued an appeal for information on a mysterious white van that was collecting stray cats.

Sources said the Chinese man was regularly buying large quantities of cat food from a pet shop in the south of Malta and the van was regularly seen in the Marsascala area.

Ms Vardas yesterday said the number plate was probably noted after he bought a two-month stock of cat food for his cats so that his friends could feed them while he is in China in December and January.

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