Libyan man involved in drug sting ‘not allowed to make sworn statement’

Harrison revealed how a third man involved in the controlled delivery, Libyan Nabeil Ibrahim Saleh, who is thought to have absconded after being granted bail in 2012 , had wanted to release a sworn statement, but had not been allowed to.

Mystery continues to surround the police sting operation which led to the arrest of Godfrey Gambin and Adel Mohammed Babani in Xemxija in 2010, with a former Assistant Police Commissioner testifying that the alleged mastermind was not allowed to release a sworn statement, in spite of specifically asking to.

The trial of Godfrey Gambin and Libyan Adel Mohammed Babani continued this morning, with the defence doggedly attacking the credibility of the informant, having had a few hours to digest the revelation on Monday that the drug deal had, in fact, been a “controlled delivery” – revealed yesterday for the first time in six years after the men were arrested, and at the trial stage of proceedings.

The men could be jailed for life if found guilty of drug trafficking.

Former AC Neil Harrison continued his testimony this morning, and appeared cagey as he took questions from the defence.

Harrison revealed how a third man involved in the controlled delivery, Libyan Nabeil Ibrahim Saleh, who is thought to have absconded after being granted bail in 2012 , had wanted to release a sworn statement, but had not been allowed to.

“So this informant’s word is taken as gospel and the accused is not allowed to release a sworn statement?” asked defence lawyer Alfred Abela in cross-examination.

A person under arrest is allowed to release a statement explaining himself to the police, which statement can be used as evidence but only against the person who made it. However, if the content of that statement is sworn before a magistrate, it becomes admissible as evidence against third parties.

Harrison confirmed that Saleh’s statement was not made under oath. “Inspector Dennis Theuma had asked me to investigate the informant... we had felt that Saleh had only wanted to pay the informant back [for uncovering the operation].”

Something of a deadlock was reached when the witness repeatedly refused to answer Abela’s questions as to whether the informant had in fact been the person at the helm of the speedboat.

The judge intervened, pointing out that the witness had already stated that he could not reveal the informant’s identity, but that “he has already said that there were another two people on the boat.”

“But is this not illegal, allowing criminals to escape?” Abela asked.

“If it had not been a controlled delivery it might have been,” Harrison replied, before denying suggestions that the person at the boat’s controls had been Saleh.

The controlled delivery had to take place the way it did, said the former AC, explaining that he had considered intercepting the boat on its way but “as Maltese police are not permitted to raid a non-Maltese flagged vessel in international waters, it was discarded. It was not a viable option. The big fish... were on the mother ship, which I believe had been in international waters, not the speedboat.”

Harrison testified that Saleh had been the brains behind the drug importation operation. The Libyan had approached a Maltese person to arrange the delivery and in the beginning of April, that person “had approached the police to inform them that the transaction was going to happen.”

The defence pressed the police witness on why he had not arrested the other people involved in the smuggling operation. “The others involved, are they not guilty of a crime?”

“It’s like you have a person arriving at the airport and a taxi picks him up. They were not involved. Nabeil Ibrahim Saleh approached a person and asked for his assistance.”

Harrison said he was confident that his source was trustworthy, but this was not enough for the defence. “Could it be that your informant lied to you? Could it be that he was, in fact, the mastermind?”  Abela asked.

The judge asked Harrison how the police had ascertained the identity of the caller, to which the witness repeated that he trusted Nabeil Ibrahim Saleh. “I met the informant many times. One of the instructions I gave him was to only speak to Nabeil Ibrahim Saleh on the phone in the presence of police.”

The phone-calls between the senior policeman and the informant would be made with a mobile device on loudspeaker mode and a set of questions would be provided, Harrison said. The telephone calls were not recorded, confirmed the witness.

After the defence suggested that the Xemxija delivery was a ruse to hide a much larger delivery of drugs to Gozo, happening at the same time, Harrison replied that could not say whether the police had secured the Gozitan shore as well.

Abela asked whether his informant was the person behind the smuggling operation and needed the two men on trial to be his scapegoats. 
The informant was allowed to escape, he suggested. “That is why you needed these two sacrificial lambs,” said the lawyer, pointing to the men in the dock.

But the former AC replied that the informant had more likely been prompted to collaborate by his lawyer. “This wasn’t a case were a person knocked on our door and asked to help. Probably his lawyer asked him to assist in our investigation as the law affords a reduction in punishment for assisting investigations.”

Abela asked why the operation had not been filmed. “The intention was to carry out the operation at night which does not lend itself to filming,” the witness replied. The operation, however took place at around 8 am, two hours after sunrise, the witness confirmed, later explaining that difficulties during the rendezvous with the mothership had led to the men being delayed.

“Did you not bring a camera, just in case?” asked the defence. The AC put it down to experience: “I wish I had taken a camera, but no.”

“So you didn’t take film or photo. No sworn statement, but you believed an informant, ” the lawyer observed. 

He asked if Jurgen Vella, aka ‘il-Bulgaru’, had been the informant, but the witness refused to answer.

“If I am informed correctly, the accused had wanted to make a sworn statement implicating Vella, in order to exact revenge,” the former AC said.

However, it had not emerged that Vella had been involved and so he was not investigated. “It would be hard to investigate, seeing as the informant was allowed to sail away,” posited the lawyer.

The prosecution objected to questions about the informant’s interest in the raid, complaining that jurors could be misguided by them.

This objection did not go down well with defence lawyer Franco Debono. “The way ex-AC testified, most of which about what an informant had told him, about a phantom controlled delivery. He’s coming here feeding the jury a story about an informant who we let escape and now we hear about a big drug case against him. So we believe an informant without a sworn declaration, but then we crucify these men. I do not expect an objection on the part of the prosecution when the majority of Harrison’s testimony is about an informant!”

The court calmly replied that Saleh’s statement would not be admissible anyway as he is technically a co-accused.

The informant’s information is not information at all, argued Debono. “They denied him evidence that could have proven him innocent.”

Lawyer Malcolm Mifsud, appearing for Babani, also cross-examined Harrison.

He suggested that his client had immediately told police that he had been misled into thinking that it was an illegal immigration operation he was assisting in, not a drug delivery, but Harrison could not confirm or deny this.

Mifsud accused the former AC of misleading the court during the compilation of evidence, where he had said that there had been drug deal at sea and the AFM had been involved. “You say that there had been a participating informant but you had told the magistrate that it had been a tip-off. Can you tell us what the truth is?”

“I had explained,” said Harrison. “In any case, it was a form of tip-off...”

Harrison was not in a position to confirm whether the police inspectors had been informed that the operation was a controlled delivery, but said that they “might have been aware.”

But he had an obligation to inform the court that he had carried out a controlled delivery, not simply acted on a tip off, at that stage, argued the defence. Harrison replied that if he had, in all likelihood, the person arrested would have deduced the informant’s identity.

But the idea that the police had given the court was that there had been a boat, they had arrested the persons on the shore and the boat had escaped, the lawyer continued, describing the police allowing the boat to get away as “a flashing neon sign to criminals indicating that he was the informant.”

Harrison was philosophical when it was pointed out that the police’s informant had done all this to benefit from a reduction in punishment, yet he remains on the run. Did this cause him to doubt his informant’s trustworthiness, in hindsight, he was asked.

“I had told him that if he failed to comply with our instructions....if he commits another crime, he will have to answer for it,” replied the officer.

The trial continues.

Lawyers Giannella Camilleri Busuttil and Nadia Attard from the Office of the Attorney General are prosecuting. Lawyers Alfred Abela, Franco Debono, Mario Mifsud are appearing for Gambin, while lawyer Malcolm Mifsud is defending Babani.

Madame Justice Edwina Grima is presiding.