Cocaine, heroin and cannabis discovered in minibus after police car chase

The man seen throwing a sachet with 200g of suspected cocaine out of the van during the police chase

Police have charged a minibus driver with possession of cocaine, heroin and cannabis while on bail for similar offences, after he led police on a car chase which led to the discovery of the drugs inside his bus.

Arraigning the driver this morning, Inspector Alfredo Mangion told Magistrate Ian Farrugia that an anonymous tip-off had led police to flag down a minibus being driven by 45 year-old Etienne Farrugia from Żebbuġ on 15 September.

The court heard how Farrugia had defied the police’s order to stop and had driven off, leading the police on a car chase through the streets of Żurrieq, honking the vehicle’s horn all the while, for reasons which the police say they have not yet established.

When Farrugia’s vehicle was finally stopped, officers found approximately 200g of suspected cocaine in a sachet he was seen to have thrown out of the van. Small amounts of substances suspected to be heroin and cannabis were also recovered from inside the accused’s van, said the inspector.

Etienne Farrugia was charged with possession of cocaine in circumstances which indicated that the illegal substance was not intended for his personal consumption, as well as possession of heroin and cannabis. He was further charged with recidivism and breaching two sets of bail conditions, the latest only dating back to April.

The prosecution requested the court order the confiscation of his bail security money, amounting to €35,000 in total. A freezing order over all of Farrugia’s assets was also requested.

A plea of not guilty was entered by the accused. His lawyers, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri, requested bail.

Inspector Mangion objected to the man’s release, telling the court that the purity of the drugs -and as a consequence, the potential damage they would have caused to society - had not yet been established. It was also the second time the inspector was arraigning the accused on similar charges in the space of 5 months.

“The minibus was transporting workers to a factory, but next week it will start being used to transport schoolchildren. He has no qualms about carrying drugs inside a bus carrying children to school,” said the inspector, adding that the accused’s criminal record gave a clear picture of his character. “When he was stopped, he had attempted to dispose of the drugs,” underlined the inspector.

“On 13 April, the accused had been granted bail on a case which is exactly the same as today’s,” added the inspector.

With regards to the charge of breaching his bail conditions, inspector Mangion explained that Farrugia’s bail conditions stipulate that he reside at an address in Zebbug. However, the police, acting on information they had received, had also searched an address in Birzebbugia and found his belongings to be there. Farrugia had not informed the police or the court of this move, explained the inspector.

Defence lawyer Franco Debono argued that the police’s case was weak and was based on factors which had not yet been established, such as the purity of the drugs, an explanation as to why the accused had been honking his car’s horn and the supposition that the vehicle would be used to transport schoolchildren next week.

The fact that investigations were still underway would normally result in the suspect being released on police bail, added the lawyer, also making the argument that 200g were on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to drug seizures.

The defence also highlighted the absence of civilian witnesses in this case, and cited a Constitutional ruling in the case against Patrick Spiteri which he said, had established that a person who had breached bail could still be granted bail in the same proceedings.

It was high time that electronic tagging was introduced, Debono commented to the magistrate during a lull in the sitting, adding that 10 years had passed since he had first suggested it in Parliament.

“Some oppose it on the grounds of human rights. Have you ever heard of a person who would prefer prison to wearing a tracking bracelet?” commented the lawyer.

The court turned down the bail request, in view of the serious nature of the charges and the fact that the accused has not proven trustworthy on other occasions, adding that the man could also pose a risk to society if released.

The request for a freezing order was upheld.