Man who sent threatening letters to government critics, MPs again denied bail

PN MP and Caruana Galizia family lawyer Jason Azzopardi testified about the fear and psychological toll caused by the anonymous hate mail he received regularly, for seven years.

The court denied a second bail application filed by lawyers for the man accused of sending the letters. Magistrate Astrid May Grima heard Azzopardi testify in the evidence compilation against Joseph Mary Borg, 71, of Valletta.

Joseph Mary Borg was arraigned last week and is accused of sending poisoned letters to the private residences of opposition MPs Beppe Fenech Adami, Jason Azzopardi and Ryan Callus, Repubblika chairman Robert Aquilina, as well as columnist and government critic Professor Kevin Cassar. .

Prosecutor inspectors Kevin Pulis and Kurt Farrugia also accuse Borg of threatening and insulting Aquilina and her brother, PN MP Karol Aquilina. In addition, Borg is accused of having harassed and threatened Karol Aquilina and of having made Robert Aquilina fear violence, threatened deputies in the exercise of their functions, harassed Professor Cassar and his wife as well as making them fear violence. violence.

“Soon after 2014, I began to regularly receive anonymous letters with distinctive calligraphy on the envelopes, both at home and in parliament,” Azzopardi told the magistrate. “It was a joke standing with my colleagues. “Għandi Santa oħra”, we would say. “

Azzopardi said the letters will arrive at regular 3-month intervals and are always typed. The address on the envelope would be handwritten, he added.

The MP said he had been in public life for a long time and used to being insulted, but said he had never encountered such clearly wanted vitriol.

Azzopardi said he was hurt the most by the man’s insults against his deceased parents, who had no involvement in his political life.

“It was clear that whoever was writing was going the extra mile to make sure that as much damage as possible was inflicted. It didn’t make me angry but very sad and, yes, worried about my safety.

“My partner also received rude and insulting letters about him and his parents, showing that he was aware of his parents’ affairs in Valletta, showing that he knew where I was.”

He suggested that political propaganda influenced the accused. “Above all, there were a lot of words that reflected the lies I’m used to hearing on a particular political party station,” Azzopardi said.

“I don’t know this person from Adam, but it was evident that his writings indicated that he had absorbed the propaganda from the Labor media and online trolls. The number of repeated lies in these letters was astounding.

Azzopardi had spoken to the police about the letters and said he knew he was not the only one who had received them, all with a very peculiar way of writing the letter “A” on the envelopes.

The abuse began in 2014 and continued unabated for seven years, until recently.

The magistrate asked Azzopardi to clarify whether there had been any specific threats against him.

“If I say there was a threat to blow me up, shoot me and so on, there wasn’t.” The effect of the content was to let me know that someone was following me and knows where I live. I felt threatened, harassed. It was a manual definition of a driving course. Although nothing expressis verbis, there was so much venom and cruelty, hate… that someone would take so long to write them down bothered me.

Azzopardi recalled how PL MP Lino Spiteri advised him many years ago not to keep the anonymous letters he had received as a politician, as keeping them would allow their author to continue to do him justice. wrong. He took that advice, he said. “I didn’t want to honor the person by keeping her.”

But Azzopardi’s partner Flavia Borg Bonaci had received three of those letters at home, insulting her, her parents and siblings, and showing the writer knew their moves, Azzopardi said. Although he convinced her to throw two, she kept a third, which was turned over to the police. “She was very psychologically disturbed and very scared,” Azzopardi said, adding that she did not want to leave her house for a while knowing that she was being followed, such was the climate of fear the letters had created.

“Criticism is one thing, but a person who goes the extra mile to inflict maximum psychological damage is something I have never seen in my public life.”

“Letters [received by Borg Bonaci] are the same and criticize the fact that I am the lawyer for the Caruana Galizia family and that I assist the Repubblika and civil society. Especially after October 2017, when [Caruana Galizia] was murdered, I remember very well that there were words of hatred, ”Azzopardi recalls. Further abuse followed after criticizing Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat, the MP said.

Cross-examination was reserved by the defense.

Prosecution Inspector Kevin Pulis exhibited a copy of the audiovisual statements released by the accused to the police on November 23 and 24. “They were taken away after all his legal rights were granted and he refused to be assisted by a lawyer while the police took them away,” the inspector said.

Defense lawyer Henry Antoncich asked the inspector whether, as the facts stood, the accused had not been assisted during his statements. “Yes, he had waived that right. He was told four or five times that he had the right to be accompanied by a lawyer of his choice, but he refused.

Borg had cooperated with the police, the inspector added.

A bail application filed earlier was also discussed in court today, with Inspector Pulis arguing that the prosecution’s position has not changed since the arraignment. “There are a large number of victims and witnesses, it is not the fault of the prosecution or the court,” said the inspector, stressing that while the police had collected documentary evidence relating to the crimes, d other evidence – of harassment and of course conduct had to be heard viva voce by the court.

The letters had been sent to the personal residential addresses of the victims, the prosecutor recalled, explaining that the court would ensure he had access to their contact details.

For his part, defense lawyer Joseph Calleja insisted that all the evidence had been “completely preserved” and accused the prosecution of wanting the accused to remain in detention until the case was concluded. trench. “There are mechanisms to enforce the bail conditions,” he said, saying “the other side is more opposed for a punitive reason, to seeing him in jail.”

Inspector Pulis refuted this claim, pointing out that there were still 28 witnesses to testify. “I didn’t say he should be jailed until the case was decided.”

The court, after hearing the bail submissions, dismissed the request because a significant number of civilian witnesses have yet to testify in the case.

The case will continue in December with the testimony of the President of the Repubblika, Robert Aquilina.