Maltese man wanted by Italian authorities granted bail as EAW case begins again

John Spiteri's case is being reheard after the Court of Criminal Appeal declared the initial decision null and ordered the case to begin again before the Court of Magistrates 

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech presided over the rehearing of European Arrest Warrant proceedings against John Spiteri, a 56-year-old builder from Qrendi, who is wanted by the Italian authorities to face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and trafficking marijuana. 

At the end of today’s three hour sitting, Spiteri was granted bail, which was secured by a €20,000 deposit and a €30,000 personal guarantee. He was also ordered to sign a bail book every day.

The same court had previously dismissed the request on the grounds that important documentation had not been exhibited by the prosecution, but after the Attorney General (AG) appealed that judgement, the Court of Criminal Appeal declared the decision to be null and ordered Spiteri’s case be reheard.

A minute of silence was observed at the start of the sitting, as a sign of respect to prosecutor Karl Muscat, whose sudden death earlier this week sent shockwaves through the legal community.

When the hearing began, lawyer Franco Debono, appearing for Spiteri together with lawyer Charles Mercieca, announced that the defence would not be requesting the magistrate’s recusal. “We will leave it in the hands of the court, for which we have the greatest of respect.”

The defence asked for permission to produce an Italian lawyer to testify about “relevant facts, with regards to the absolute lack of information,” but this was later refused by the court, despite the defence’s repeated insistence. The court said it had no need to hear any person “to tell it how to carry out its work and reach a decision as to whether the crimes are extraditable or not.” 

However, the court also said it would give the defence the opportunity to file a note exhibiting any further documentation which could somehow serve to shed light on the interpretation of the law required by the court. 

"Our law has passed through a fine sieve. It is the framework decision that is draconian, not Maltese law."

Likewise, the lawyers’ claim that the defendant was not the same person referred to in the warrant was also given short shrift by the magistrate, who pointed out that his identification details matched those specified in the EAW and that the man had himself confirmed his identity this morning when asked by the court. 

The documents submitted with the EAW did nothing to support the accusation, said the lawyer. “There is no evidence against him,” Debono argued, “and this explains why the EAW itself is very short on detail. It doesn’t have enough detail for the court to make the required analysis.”

The court also chastised the prosecution, for alleging before the Court of Criminal Appeal that they had not been allowed to exhibit a 200 page document by the magistrate. “You didn’t tell the judge that you had asked the court to provide a printout of the document, and so to do the work of the prosecution.” 

There had been nothing stopping the AG from doing things differently, said the court. “I cannot spoon feed or make suggestions.”

The domestic warrant issued for Spiteri’s arrest in Malta had been exhibited in the appeal proceedings, noted the court, reading the Maltese warrant out loud to highlight that it indicated Spiteri.

Frendo Dimech invited the representatives of the parties to make submissions on the bars to extradition, pointing out that there were doubts about the extraditability of both offences for which Spiteri’s return was being requested.

The issue of lack of detail in the EAW, regarding the alleged crimes for which Spiteri was wanted in Italy was also repeatedly raised by the defence, Debono arguing that the lack of detail was “precisely because it is not extraditable.”

In his submissions the defence lawyer argued that the law asked the court to “examine the behaviour not the offence,” as the law made constant reference to “conduct.”

“What did he allegedly do? I’m not talking about the charges. To establish conduct you cannot simply have two sentences of description. This is why we are arguing that there is insufficient information in the EAW for the court to reach a conclusion.”

The court pointed out that it could request supplementary information from the Italian authorities on that issue.

In submissions lasting over 2 hours, Debono, criticised what he called the draconian drafting of the applicable European law, saying that this had already been pointed out by the Maltese superior courts.

“It’s not the Maltese AG’s fault. They acted as they were obliged to,” said the lawyer. “EAWs treat two categories of persons the same: those who are wanted and those who are already condemned, but at large. I think there is a need for change. The law evolves.”

The defence insisted that the court had not been provided with sufficient information about the behaviour in question to decide whether the crime as described, also constitutes a crime under Maltese law - the so-called ‘double criminality’ requirement.

After rebuking the police for having brought about this situation by failing to exhibit the required documentation during the arraignment, the court adjourned the case for judgement till August 24.  The defence was given till August 12 to file a note of final submissions.

AG Prosecutor Ylenia Abela and police inspector Mark Galea represented the Maltese authorities in the proceedings.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Charles Mercieca appeared for Spiteri.