Father and son acquitted of conspiracy to import millions of contraband cigarettes

Arthur Ciancio found guilty of forgery and fabricating documents after describing the cargo as ‘toys’

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
15 September 2017, 3:30pm
Customs found 421 master cases, each containing 10,000 Regal brand cigarettes
Customs found 421 master cases, each containing 10,000 Regal brand cigarettes
A father and son have been acquitted of conspiring to import 15 million contraband cigarettes in a shipping container, in 2005 and failing to pay nearly €2 million in tax, after the shipment was re-designated as a transshipment .

Arthur Ciancio, 64, and his 45-year-old son Aaron Ciancio, both from Mellieha, had been facing the prospect of jail time and up to €3.03 million in fines after they were accused of participating in a criminal organisation, conspiring to commit a crime and illegally importing 15 million cigarettes, worth €593,000 . It is alleged that the two men failed to pay over €1.5 million in excise duty and over €377,000 in VAT on the cigarettes. The haul of illegal cigarettes had been the biggest seizure of contraband tobacco in Malta at the time.

Inspector Ian Abdilla had testified in 2005, telling the court that the police had been informed of the impending arrival of a container load of suspected counterfeit cigarettes in February 2005, but it was only in March 2005 that the China Shipping container was identified and searched. The cargo had been declared as promotional toys for a Maltese company, which was later found not to exist. It transpired from the records of the Malta Freeport that on the 25th February, the container had its status changed from one of local import to “in transit.” Customs searched the container and found 421 master cases, each containing 10,000 Regal brand cigarettes. 

A false email trail was set up in an attempt to legitimise the change in designation, which was traced back to a landline belonging to Arthur Ciancio. He was arrested and the family computer seized.

Lawyer Kathleen Grima, appearing for the father and lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia, appearing for Aaron Ciancio, had argued that the shipment had never been imported into Malta, the cargo having been re-designated as a transshipment destined for another port by Arthur Ciancio.

Experts opined that in this case, Arthur Ciancio had altered the documents so as to show the cargo as toys, in order to avoid the much higher importation tax on cigarettes. But because the cargo's destination had been changed from Malta to the UK, he could not be found guilty of offences, which required importation.

The court observed that from the documents exhibited, the cigarettes had not been destined for the Maltese Market, because the change in designation had been requested before the police intervened.

 

“The request was made by means of a fraudulent email in February whilst the container was seized in March. Therefore, as Alex Montebello, CEO of Freeport stated, taxes are not due in Malta when the containers are in Malta at Malta Freeport for transshipment purposes...the situation would have been very different if the containers were on land once intercepted by the police.”

“The court is not saying that there is no crime...but it cannot find him guilty of importation since he never intended to import such merchandise into Malta.”

In her judgment on the case, Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera noted that a court expert had confirmed that Arthur Ciancio had fabricated documents with the intention of misleading the Maltese authorities and had set up a false email trail to throw the police off track.

Arthur Ciancio was found guilty of forgery, falsification of documents and making use of a false documents for which he received a sentence of two years imprisonment suspended for four years.

The court exonerated his son, however, saying that the fact that he lived in the same house did not qualify as a ground upon which guilt could be found.

“The prosecution has to prove its charges in regard to each accused individually,” remarked the magistrate, angrily pointing out that the prosecution had “brought not one piece of evidence that he was in any way involved in this crime.”

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