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Updated: Alleged blackmailer gave Rita Schembri 24 hours 'to redeem herself'

The permanent secretary at the Internal Audit and Investigation Department was given 24 hours ‘to redeem herself’ by the man who is being charged with blackmailing her, a court heard today.

Joseph Borg, from Swieqi was denied bail last Saturday, after he was charged with sending a defamatory e-mail in which he allegedly attempted to blackmail Ms Schembri, herself at the centre of an investigation.

Taking the witness stand, Ms Schembri, who is also a member on the supervisory committee of OLAF said she filed a police report on the case on November 21.

She said she was working in Brussels and, in between meetings, checked her email.

Ms Schembri said she was forwarded an email  from Mr Borg from the generic mailbox of her department.

The e-mail said: “Rita I'm giving you 24 hours to redeem yourself of all previous michevious conduct before I pass all the details to Olaf.”

She said that she had an issue with Mr Borg in the Civil Courts. He had filed two cases, which were decided in 2006 and 2009 regarding a restaurant she and her husband rented from him in 1995.

Ms Schembri said that, in 1998, her husband decided to slow down and they found two Nigerian partners to help out. In 2009 the Appeals Court decided in favour of the Schembris.

She said that, in 2005, Mr Borg opened another case against them and Omar Granata, who had sublet the restaurant from them.

Asked by prosecutor Inspector Chris Pullicino whether she was ever ordered to pay Mr Borg, Ms Schembri answered “no, never”.

She said she was told that she needed to reimburse the family of Ben Kingsley with €26,000 she took fraudulently from them and felt that she was being blackmailed as she had never been ordered to pay anything.

“It was a very difficult moment for me.”

Ms Schembri told the Courts that Mr Borg to try and inflict maximum damage by reporting her to Olaf.

She said that two days before, Godwin Grima, the head of civil service told her that she failed to inform him that she was being threatened by email. But at that time, she had not yet received the e-mail. An e-mail was also sent to Olaf and they asked for more information.

Ms Schembri said that the Nigerian couple had emigrated and never contacted her. It was Mr Borg who pressured them to take action against the Schembris, she said, adding that they (the Schembris) were being bullied by Mr Borg and she could not understand why he was trying to hurt them.

“This is pure hatred,” she said, adding that people could agree to disagree and stop there.

In cross examination, Ms Schembri said that this was not the first time that she had been threatened by Mr Borg.

Taking the witness stand, Mr Granata said he ran Little Italy in Bugibba, which was the restaurant he had sublet from the Schembris.

He said that when he first met the Schembris. He did not know that they had a pending court issue with Mr Borg. However, when he met Mr Borg, he told him that the restaurant should not have been sublet to him because this was against the contract he had with the Schembris.

He said that in spite of the €28,000 he had paid the Schembris in key money, he had to vacate the place following a court appeal judgement Mr Borg had in a case against the Schembris.

Mr Granata said that in 2009 he made a new contract with Mr Borg who asked him why he was not trying to get his money back from the Schembris. He said he told him he had o faith in the justice system. This statement elicited a smile from Magistrate Anthony Vella.

Mr Granata said that when the John Dalli case came up about a month ago, he recalled telling Mr Borg that the Schembris still owed him money. He told him that he wanted his money back but he never said that he was afraid of the Schembris.

Replying to questions by Dr Debono, Mr Granata denied that he was approached by Mr Mark Schembri to kill Mr Borg.

Taking the witness stand, Simon Balzan, Mr Borg’s son-in-law, said he had a restaurant opposite Mr Granata’s. He said Mr Granata’s brother Chris, who is a policeman, told him that Mr Granata had told him that he was approached by Mr Schembri who said let’s get €10,000 together to get someone to beat up Mr Borg and throw him into the sea.

Magistrate Anthony Vella said he could not understand how this policeman knew about this allegation and did not make a police report about it.

Mr Borg, who is being represented by Lawyer Edward Debono, has now been granted bail against a deposit of €2,000 and a personal guarantee of €8,000.

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