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Police seek overseas help in Hugo Chetcuti probe

Investigations so far rule out contract killing motive

Flowers and candles placed in front of a photo of entrepreneur Hugo Chetcuti, who on Thursday succumbed to the injuries sustained when he was stabbed last week. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

Flowers and candles placed in front of a photo of entrepreneur Hugo Chetcuti, who on Thursday succumbed to the injuries sustained when he was stabbed last week. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

The investigation into Hugo Chetcuti’s murder has been extended beyond Malta’s shores with law enforcement agencies overseas roped in, according to police sources.

The possibility that the stabbing could have been a contract killing commissioned by Maltese nationals had all but been ruled out, the sources said.

“The likelihood of this murder case being linked to Maltese criminals or a local motive does not seem to tally with what has come out of preliminary investigations so far,” they said yesterday.

Read: Entrepreneur Hugo Chetcuti dead, six days after stabbing

They noted that although investigators were at this stage not discounting the possibility that the fatal stabbing of the Paceville tycoon could be linked to some form of international criminal elements, they also had their doubts that this was the real case scenario.

“We have contacted Interpol, Europol and police forces in eastern Europe to inquire about any outstanding arrest warrants or ongoing investigations tied to this Serbian national [charged with the attack],” the sources said.

Serb suspect still not collaborating with the police

Media reports this was a “mafia style killing” was not given any weight with the sources pointing out that similar “mafia murders” were unknown.

The victim's lawyer said on Friday that Mr Chetcuti was murdered by a "mentally disturbed and disgruntled" employee who had been sacked for being drunk at work.

Mr Chetcuti, 52, died on Thursday, six days after he was stabbed by a former employee on a busy Friday night outside one of his own Paceville entertainment establishments.

Hospital sources yesterday said the entrepreneur died on Thursday night after post-operation infections, inflicted by the three stab wounds to the stomach.

Bojan Cmelik, 35, a Serbian national, was on Saturday charged with the attack after the police chased him to Sliema. He had allegedly stabbed Mr Chetcuti with a knife after gesturing to embrace him.

He is now also expected to be charged with murder.

The compilation of evidence, when details of the case start to emerge, is expected to start on Wednesday.

The sources said Mr Cmelik had recently been fired from one of Mr Chetcuti’s establishments after he had allegedly been caught drinking on the job.

He was not collaborating with police during interrogation, refusing to answer questions, often weeping and behaving in an “unusual” manner, the sources told the Times of Malta.

A floral tribute outside one of Hugo Chetcuti’s establishments in Paceville.A floral tribute outside one of Hugo Chetcuti’s establishments in Paceville.

‘Larger than life’

“It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that we announce the passing of our beloved Hugo Chetcuti,” a family statement said.

“He was larger than life, a man who captivated us all with his generosity, compassion, wit and profound awareness and sympathy for those less fortunate.

“Besides being one of Malta’s biggest businessmen and leading entrepreneurs, he remained firmly grounded and aware of his humble beginnings.

“In later years, his deep belief in human rights and continual philanthropic support to the less fortunate stimulated his drive for success.

“The local entertainment and hospitality industry has lost its favourite son but will continue to reap the benefits of his foresight and determination for decades to come.

“This unbearable loss, felt by so many of you, least of all us, his son, parents, brothers and sister, grandchildren, nephews and nieces, is devastating.

“But his legacy lives on, his dreams will be fulfilled and our love for him will burn indefinitely. May he rest in eternal peace.

“We would like to inform everyone that The Hugo’s Group will continue to operate as usual and details of the funeral will be announced shortly.”

‘Giant and gentleman’

Hugo Chetcuti was yesterday described as a giant and a gentleman by Paceville stalwart and close friend Philip Fenech.

“I had known Hugo since he first started in the 1980s. I had seen him grow from a small operator, to a giant,” Mr Fenech said, striving to come to terms with the loss of his friend.

Mr Chetcuti started his career in the 1980s when he opened his first music club in Paceville, Footloose.

Over some four decades, he built an empire of restaurants, nightclubs, and gentlemen’s clubs and had recently started branching out into the hotel business too. His self-styled brand Hugo’s included popular Paceville establishments like Havana, Hugo’s Lounge, Hugo’s Pub, Shadow Lounge, Rocco Club Lounge, Bacco by Hugo’s, Club H, Soho Lounge, Native Bar & Diner, Hugo’s Passion and his flagship, Hugo’s Terrace. The latest additions were a burger bar, a Middle Eastern eatery and another offering Italian food.

His sister Cheryle and brother Isaac worked with him in the company with his son Luke following in his father’s footsteps.

Luke Chetcuti has announced that he intends to take over from his late father.

In May, the group issued a €5 million bond, meant to finance further property acquisitions. Industry sources said Mr Chetcuti was planning as many as six further hotels over the next few years.

Mr Fenech said Mr Chetcuti was not only a loss to those who knew him but also to the island’s entertainment scene.

“He was not just someone who followed trends but introduced them to the island, bringing new ideas and concepts that revolutionised Paceville,” Mr Fenech said.

“His loss will be greatly felt.”

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