Court upholds investigator's refusal to detail foreign intelligence assistance in C4 importation case

A court was told that a man who was charged with attempting to purchase military-grade explosives on the dark web had been arrested as part of an anti-narcotics operation

The police superintendent who led the investigations into a Zebbug man, who stands charged with attempting to purchase military-grade explosives on the dark web, has told a court that the accused had been arrested as part of an anti-narcotics operation, refusing to divulge what information had been received from friendly foreign intelligence services.

Superintendent George Cremona was cross-examined on the witness stand as the compilation of evidence against Jomic Calleja Maatouk, 36, from Zebbug, continued before magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech on Monday morning.

Calleja is accused of attempting to import an amount of C4 explosive into Malta after purchasing it on the dark web. In previous sittings, the court had heard prosecution witnesses testify that foreign intelligence services had informed their Maltese counterparts of intercepted communications surrounding purchases of military explosive C4 and potent poisons Ricin and Polonium-210.

Defence lawyer Benjamin Valenzia cross-examined the Superintendent, asking him about the intelligence he had received from a “friendly service”. Valenzia asked how the foreign intelligence services had found out about the dark web transactions. Inspector Omar Zammit interrupted the lawyer, saying it was irrelevant. Cremona pointed out that it was “restricted information, which I cannot testify about.”

The magistrate, too, pointed out to the defence that the intelligence would no longer be intelligence if he were to divulge its source.

Valenzia moved on to other questions, pointing out that the accused had been arrested in Birkirkara and asking whether a warrant had been issued.

“When we went on the arrest in Birkirkara, it was not related to these proceedings but was a drugs case,” Cremona replied. “It happened because we had received information at the time that he was carrying drugs. In fact, he was found to be carrying drugs and is undergoing separate criminal proceedings about this fact.”

The prosecution objected to questions about Matthew Borg, the courier who was identified as having carried out some 13 deliveries to Calleja, saying that he had nothing to do with the case at hand.

Borg’s former employers had issued a statement last year disassociating themselves from Borg, saying he had “turned out to be an accomplice and his employment was immediately terminated."

“The testimony or otherwise of Matthew Borg made no difference to this investigation,” Cremona testified.

Also overruled as irrelevant was Valenzia’s question as to why an anti-terrorism superintendent was involved in a drugs raid.

Cremona told the court that there had been no time to request a warrant for the Birkirkara raid, which had taken place in front of McDonald’s, as it was feared that Calleja would manage to dispose of the drugs before being arrested. The law provides for such a situation, he added.

Valenzia asked the superintendent why the accused had first started looking at Polonium and then C4. “With regards to the Polonioum, the seller had asked him the weight and height of the intended target. Calleja had then asked for five doses, but the seller said it would attract attention.”

There was also a dispute on payment held in escrow, he said. Calleja had gone on to inquire about purchasing C4, being sent instructions about how to attach it to the underside of a car with a magnet and information on how to set up a mercury switch.

The landlords of two separate properties in Mdina road, Qormi – a showroom and a garage- which had been leased to Calleja also testified at the end of Monday’s sitting. Both said that there were never any serious issues with the payment of the rent. The showroom owner said that sometimes it would be the accused who paid the rent, other times his father.

The case was adjourned to next month for defence witnesses to testify.