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Lawyer and family offered Gozo rape girl €7,000 deal

Two other lawyers, priest involved in the case

A lawyer and close relatives of the men accused of raping a 14-year-old girl persuaded the alleged victim's family to sign a contract stating they would not testify in court in return for €7,000 in "psychological support".

The girl's mother told The Sunday Times that she signed the contract under intense pressure from the group and out of fear of exposing the issue to the Gozitan community. But she regretted it immediately and together with her daughter forged ahead with the complaint.

The defendants, brothers Peter Paul and Josef Said, stand accused of raping the girl, while Mark Lorry Said and Peter Paul Debono were charged with her defilement. They are all under house arrest.

However, the girl's mother said her family had to withstand pressure from a number of people before the case reached the courts.

She said they were approached by close relatives of the Said brothers and a priest, who acted as an intermediary, shortly after the rape and defilement allegations were made last month.

It is alleged that the relatives tried to convince the family not to pursue the complaint in exchange for money. The girl's father was adamantly against the idea but the mother felt confused.

The relatives left the house but returned with a Gozitan lawyer later in the afternoon. He drafted a contract stipulating that the girl's family would be paid around €7,000 to pay for psychological support. A guarantee of €23,000 was also included as part of a pledge that the accused would not approach the girl.

On the day the men were arrested, the girl's mother said another approach was made - this time by two different lawyers (one from Gozo and another from Malta) who said they wanted to "see if they could come to an arrangement" over the arraignment of the men. The woman immediately called a family acquaintance and the men left.

During a sitting last Friday to reconsider the bail conditions imposed on the men, Chief Justice Vincent De Gaetano made reference to the issue of interference.

He said: "This court cannot fail to observe that in this case it seems that there have been many manoeuvres by people who had an interest to see that the case does not reach the courts.

"It seems that, before the accused were charged in court, money even changed hands in order for there to be a forfeiture of the prosecution (in respect of the accused bearing the Said surname)".

However, the Chief Justice said that the court presided over by him was not called to "decide the legality or otherwise of what happened in this regard or whether whoever was involved in these attempts, including certain lawyers, acted correctly or otherwise".

The allegations of interference emerged in court only after the Attorney General filed an application requesting that the bail granted to the accused be revoked.

The four men were denied bail when first charged on September 18. However, when the compilation of evidence started on September 23, before a different magistrate, the men were placed under house arrest.

After hearing the Attorney General's request to review that decision - together with the testimony of the girl's mother and prosecuting inspector - the Chief Justice decided to keep the men under house arrest, but he raised the personal guarantees.

Peter Paul Said and Josef Said are the brothers of Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said. However, the politician is not being implicated in any way.

The Sunday Times asked the police whether the allegations of interference have been investigated and if any charges are expected to be laid. However, no response was forthcoming by the time of going to print.

mmicallef@timesofmalta.com

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