It’s been a year since Hugo Chetcuti, one of Malta’s best-known entrepreneurs, died a few days after being stabbed in Paceville.
Serbian national Bojan Cmelik, a former Hugo’s Group employee with a history of armed robbery in his home country, has since been charged, but his motive for murdering Chetcuti remains unkown.
This is what we know so far.
On 7th July 2018, Hugo Chetcuti invited his relatives and managers to sample the menu of a new seafood restaurant he was about to open on the Paceville steps.
At around 10pm, Chetcuti went out for a cigarette, along with his brother Isaac, his sister Sheryl, his security guard/bodyguard James Farrugia and Hugo’s Group project manager Simon Attard. Chetcuti’s sister and his bodyguard soon left to visit a nearby establishment.
It was at this moment that Cmelik, wearing a straw hat, approached Hugo Chetcuti, who was sitting on a stool, and shouted out his name. Chetcuti extended his arm, assuming the man wanted to hug him but, after putting his hand around the entrepreneur’s neck, Cmelik stabbed him twice in the stomach and ran away.
“My brother was well-known and many foreigners used to stop him in the street to shake his hand, take photos with him and congratulate him,” Isaac Chetcuti said.
Suspicions that the murder was premeditated were intensified after Caroline Barbara, the manager of the nearby Hugo’s Hotel, testified that she had seen Cmelik hovering in the hotel lobby earlier in the afternoon. She was struck by his straw hat and his cold demeanour and said that when she greeted him in the lobby, he looked her in the eye as if to ask why she was looking at him.
Police were called in and a chase ensued, with Cmelik managing to give officers the slip at Exiles before eventually being caught in St Helen’s Street, Sliema with a knife tucked into his holster. Facing three officers, he resisted arrest and had to be tasered three times.
It was later revealed that Cmelik used to work at two of Chetcuti’s Paceville outlets – first at Bacco’s between February and September 2017 and then at Hugo’s Terrace later that same year. He was fired from both jobs, from Bacco’s for reasons such as insisting on speaking in Serbian at work and from Hugo’s Terrace after not showing up for work on New Year’s Eve.
However, Chetcuti himself clearly seemed to have had no idea who Cmelik was.
Indeed, Isaac Chetcuti said that he visited his brother in hospital the day after the stabbing and that Hugo asked him why a man he didn’t even known had attacked him. The entrepreneur died a few days later, succumbing to an infection.
Cmelik is pleading not guilty, and has maintained his refusal to give police a reason as to why he stabbed Chetcuti. At one point, L-Orizzont quoted police sources as stating that the murder could have been a contract killing orchestrated by the Balkan mafia, but nothing further developed from this rumour.
Later, pieces of Cmelik’s murky past in Serbia began to emerge.
An old acquaintance of his revealed to Lovin Malta that Cmelik’s real name was actually Bojan Mitić and that he had been jailed in Serbia for his role in an armed robbery on a van in Belgrade back in 2005.
According to a Serbian news report, Mitić and two other men had boarded the van after receiving inside information of its movements, threatened the driver with an automatic rifle and a pistol, and made off with six million dinar (€50,828) in cash and transport passes worth 10 million dinar (€84,678). The other six suspects were arrested and a manhunt was launched for Mitić, who was eventually arrested and jailed.
“I’ve known Bojan since he was a child and I remember him as a very sporty boy who was passionate about basketball,” the acquaintance said. “I can’t even recall him ever getting into a fight at school and I was shocked when I found out he was involved in a robbery. He was just such a normal guy.”
After receiving information from Europol and Interpol, the Maltese police later confirmed that the suspect had officially changed his surname from Mitić to Cmelik in December 2016, shortly before moving to Malta.
The suspect’s brother Adam Mitić, who lived in the same apartment as him, also told police that he had noticed a change in his brother’s behaviour in the months preceding the murder.
“Adam said that Bojan was acting very strange and aggressive for the past six months and that he used to lock himself inside his bedroom whenever he [Adam] entered the living room,” a police sergeant testified.
The Attorney General issued a bill of indictment last December, meaning that Cmelik will now face a trial by jury. Legal parties are currently waiting for Judge Edwina Grima to set a date for the trial.
Hopefully the trial will shed some light on the motive behind this brutal murder.