Marsa drug raid arrests null because accused were not given warrant

Court declares Marsa stables drug traffficking arrests invalid after arrest warrant oversight

Police file photo of heroin and cocaine bags raided in a police operation
Police file photo of heroin and cocaine bags raided in a police operation

The arrest of three people, arraigned on Thursday on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, was declared invalid by a court because they were not given a copy of the warrant authorising their arrest.

A 17-year-old man from Marsa, whose name is banned from publication on account of his age, was arraigned together with 24-year-old Melchior Portelli from Marsa and 24-year-old Loredana Agius from Valletta, before magistrate Josette Demicoli, accused of conspiracy to traffic drugs and aggravated possession.

The men, who said they “washed some cars” for a living, were also charged with money laundering. All three accused pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Inspector Justine Grech, prosecuting together with Inspector Tom Joe Farrugia, told the court that the Drugs Squad had received confidential information that drug trafficking was taking place at a stables in Marsa and a house in which the 17-year-old resided.

The police raided the two properties simultaneously, finding a certain Luke Orsini inside the stables, which they noted was equipped with CCTV outside.

A pouch, a mobile phone, as well as substances suspected to be cannabis, 91 sachets of suspected cocaine and 31 sachets of suspected heroin were found in the stables. 148 sachets of suspected cocaine were seized from the house, in which the 17-year-old, Agius and Portelli were found. A second woman who was present in the house, had fainted during the raid and was given prompt medical attention.

Luxury cars, cash and jewellery were also seized from the property, she said.

Lawyer Franco Debono, appearing for the accused, together with lawyers Marion Camilleri, Francesca Zarb contested the validity of the arrest, cross-examining the inspector on whether a copy of the warrant had been served on the accused. She could not say, however, as she had been inside another building at the time.

Debono said his client had not been given any papers until they were in the lockup. “I never have had it so clear that the arrest was not valid. The inspector said that at the time of arrest, the warrant was not shown to them. There has never been such an illegal arrest in the entire world,” Debono told the court.

Grech said the accused had all been verbally told their rights. It was feared that the accused could destroy the evidence, which required the police to act quickly, she said. She added that the police had not known how many people were inside the property before the raid took place and so would not have had enough copies.

The court then asked whether the relevant warrant had been given to the accused at any time after their arrest, and the inspector said she could not confirm this. After several high-tension exchanges between the lawyers on both sides, the court declared the arrest invalid.

Magistrate Josette Demicoli said the warrant was in the possession of the inspector, who had been in a different building at the time of arrest.

The court said that there was no breach of the law, but the prosecuting inspector was not in a position to confirm that the accused had been given a copy of his arrest warrant to this day.

Under the Criminal Code, a person under arrest must be served with the arrest warrant, with the proviso that authorises arrest when a police officer comes across a person against whom an arrest warrant has been issued, even if a copy of the warrant is not in his possession at that time. The accused must be served with a copy as soon as possible after the arrest, in that case.

The court said that the law was clear that once an arrest warrant is issued, this is to be given to the arrested person at the first opportunity. As this had not happened, the court said it would not be declaring the arrest valid.

The court upheld a request for a freezing order to be issued over the men’s assets and the case against all three accused will continue, although they are no longer under arrest.

Fourth suspect granted bail

Following that arraignment a fourth suspect,  Luke Orsini, was arraigned separately over charges of aggravated possession of drugs.

He was arrested at the stable on Tuesday night when a team of officers headed by superintendent Keith Arnaud, who heads the Homicide department and the Drug Squad, took the suspect by surprise shortly after he emerged from the stable.

His arrest was deemed valid in this case and his lawyer Matthew Xuereb requested bail. 

Bail was granted against a number of conditions, including a deposit of €500 and a personal guarantee of €8000..