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Dubious witness results in man being cleared of usury charges

Accuser was a convicted fraudster

A man was cleared of drug trafficking and usury charges after a Magistrates’ Court found that the case pivoted upon the testimony of a witness of dubious character, as evidenced by his “copious criminal record”.

Conrad Axisa, a 37-year old Għaxaq resident, had been targeted by criminal prosecution nine years ago over alleged cocaine trafficking, aggravated possession of the drug, simple cocaine possession, usury and threats in respect of Duncan Buttigieg, a convicted fraudster.

The latter had told officers from the Drug Squad that Mr Axisa had been his drug supplier for some two years, further claiming that he was being constantly threatened by the man over an outstanding debt of €600, in addition to excessive interest rates.

The man claimed to be so “terrified” of his pursuer, who was threatening to “shoot him in the knees” or to blow off his legs, that he almost feared leaving his home, until he finally released a police statement denouncing the alleged threats.

A police search at the suspect’s home had yielded some drug paraphernalia and slight traces of cocaine, as well as empty plastic sachets with their corners snipped off lying in a dustbin.

In the course of criminal proceedings, a court-appointed scientist reported that besides half a Viagra pill, there had only been traces of cocaine on a metal spoon.

The accused himself had testified, denying the charges and claiming that Mr Buttigieg had made up the whole story to shrug off an outstanding balance of €500 after he had paid back a mere €100 out of the sum lent to him by the accused.

As for the traces of drug found in his home, the accused explained that at the time he had been going through a rough patch following the loss of his mother, and had resorted to cocaine.

Faced with these conflicting versions, the court, presided over by magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, observed that the whole issue depended upon the credibility or otherwise of the prime witness of the prosecution.

There were several inconsistencies in his version, the court observed, making reference to a particular message sent to the accused by his alleged victim stating, “Shall I come on Saturday so that you might take photos for my passport?”

The court found it difficult to reconcile this message with Mr Buttigieg’s claims of being “terrified” of the accused, who had answered with another message refusing to take said photos until the debt had been settled.

Moreover, none of the items retrieved from the accused’s home indicated any link to his alleged drug trafficking.

The court further noted that Mr Buttigieg’s own uncle had testified that he too was aware of his nephew’s habit of first borrowing money, then threatening to report his creditor to the police when faced with a request for repayment.

A glance at Mr Buttigieg’s “copious criminal record” shed light upon his conduct and character, directly impinging upon his credibility as a witness, the court observed.

The court cleared the accused of all charges save for that of simple possession of cocaine for which, in the light of all circumstances, he was fined €90 and a further €199 for court expenses.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri were defence counsel.

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