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Prosecutor dares defence to back up arguments with evidence in people-smuggling trial

A prosecutor at the trial of an Ethiopian man accused of smuggling 181 African migrants has challenged defence lawyers to bring evidence to support their arguments

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
11 January 2017, 2:27pm
58-year-old Hadish Abayu is on trial accused of people-smuggling and complicity in the trafficking of persons
58-year-old Hadish Abayu is on trial accused of people-smuggling and complicity in the trafficking of persons
A prosecutor has challenged lawyers defending a man on trial for people-smuggling to bring evidence to support their arguments, as the trial of an Ethiopian man accused of smuggling 181 African migrants to Europe by sea entered its third day.  

58-year-old Hadish Abayu is on trial accused of people-smuggling and complicity in the trafficking of persons. Prosecutors believe him to be one of the masterminds behind the 2005 voyage from Libya to Italy, but which ended up in Malta.

The accused, dressed in a brown tweed suit and loafers, sat quietly in the dock this afternoon as the prosecution began its final submissions. 

Lawyer Vincienne Vella, who is conducting the prosecution on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General, asked jurors to cast their minds back 11 years to the height of the African migration crisis, when flimsy boats packed with hundreds of would-be migrants were regularly intercepted in Maltese waters.

She asked jurors to bear in mind that this was not a case against anyone except Hadish Abayu. “Not the immigrants, not the other traffickers.”

Vella urged the jurors to bear in mind that the prosecution had presented the best evidence available, whilst acknowledging that there was always room for things to have been done better. “How many times did you get 100/100 at school? Maybe in the first few years at primary, but it gets harder as things increase in complexity.”

Nobody is expecting the jury to conduct the investigation, the lawyer said. “You were chosen to judge the facts according to the evidence as presented here.” Vella reminded the jurors that the events had taken place 11 years ago, at a time when migrants had been pouring into Malta.

The Attorney General's office has 14 prosecutors available, she pointed out. The heavy workload meant that it was forced to rely heavily on the police to conduct investigations. To make matters worse, the few police officers dealing with immigration also have a massive workload, she said. Pre-empting probable defence arguments against the quality of the evidence, Vella said that notwithstanding all the obstacles, had the authorities seen that there was insufficient evidence to bring a man to trial, they would not just “bang out a hasty indictment.”

Needling the defence, Vella quipped that it hadn't said much yesterday but she was sure it would open the floodgates after she had finished her submissions, when the prosecution could no longer reply.

The defence seemed to be saying that the accused had been roped into the operation without knowing what was going on, Vella said, “but when questioned less than a year after the fact, the accused had said one thing. 11 years later, he had changed his version. The 180 victims did not wake up one morning and decide to point out Abayu as their trafficker.”

Abayo told the jury yesterday that he had planned to study at Oxford. But Vella pointed out that his wife had also testified and said that they were struggling to make ends meet.

He had claimed that in Switzerland, where he had absconded to after jumping bail in Malta in 2006, he had been wired money by his wife's family in Australia. But there was no paper trail, Vella pointed out. “Bring me the evidence. Who alleges something here must also prove it.”

The trial continues.

Lawyer Vincienne Vella from the office of the Attorney General is leading the prosecution. Abayu is being represented by lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...