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Sliema thieves gang ‘vanish’ after being granted bail

Five men had been charged with 28 break-ins

The suspected Sliema thieves being taken to court in September 2015. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The suspected Sliema thieves being taken to court in September 2015. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Updated at 2.30pm with AG's statement

A months-long major police operation that netted a group of foreigners suspected of a string of thefts in Sliema two years ago could well prove to have been futile because the accused cannot be found.

The Times of Malta was informed that the police have mounted a manhunt across the islands to find the wanted men, thought to form part of an international crime ring.

Alarm bells that the accused could have fled the country were raised a few days ago when they failed to appear in court as the case against them continued.

Police sources said the officers involved in the case could not believe that all their work could go up in flames only because the Attorney General’s Office had recommended the accused should be granted bail. (The AG's office has denied it recommended bail - read statement below.)

Five foreigners – from Poland, Georgia, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan – were charged with involvement in 28 break-ins in the Sliema and St Julian’s area

On the other hand, sources close to the Attorney General blame the police for not keeping an eye on the accused and ensuring they observed bail conditions.

“They were a bunch of criminals who had been living off burglaries for a number of years and who terrorised Sliema residents, particularly the elderly,” a senior police officer said.

It is obvious they were lax in their surveillance

“They should have never been granted bail and we were opposing the Attorney General’s advice. However, the Attorney General insisted on it and look what has happened.”

The sources close to the Attorney General, however, argued that bail was a human right and, furthermore, did not stop the police from doing their work.

“The police were obliged to see that the accused adhered strictly to their bail conditions. It is obvious they were lax in their surveillance,” the sources said.

The series of burglaries in Sliema had led to fury among residents protesting about the lack of security in the area with the local council and district politicians.

They also piled pressure on the police to act.

The massive undercover operation involved about 30 plainclothes officers, many police units, including the Criminal Investigation Department, and even the Secret Service.

It paid off and five foreigners – from Poland, Georgia, Lithuania and Kyrgyzstan – were eventually charged with involvement in 28 break-ins in the Sliema and St Julian’s area.

Testifying in court, police officers described the ‘Sliema gang’ as professional thieves who had tattoos indicating they were part of an international criminal organisation.

Asked earlier this week to confirm that the accused could not be found and had probably left the country, no replies were forthcoming from the police media relations unit despite various reminders.

It could not be confirmed whether the police sought the help of Interpol in their search for the ‘Sliema gang’.

AG's office opposed all requests for bail

The AG’s office had strongly opposed all requests for bail made by the accused, the last being on May 15, 2017.

The court, however, granted bail against a number of conditions, including signing the bail book at the police station twice a day, and also imposed a personal guarantee of €30,000 on each of the accused.

In the case of one of them, the bail book signing was reduced by the court from twice to once a day as the person had just had a baby.

On July 31, the police informed the courts that the accused had probably fled the island since the last time they signed the bail book was on July 20.

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