Director of freight handling company charged over drugs found inside white goods

Man denies charges relating to the importation of some 8kg of cannabis grass and possession of ecstasy and cocaine

File photo
File photo

The director of a freight handling company has denied charges relating to the importation of some 8kg of cannabis grass and possession of ecstasy and cocaine.

Inspectors Mark Anthony Mercieca and John Leigh Howard arraigned Patrick Mercieca, 43, from Zabbar on charges of conspiracy to traffic cannabis grass, importing cannabis grass, selling it and possession of cannabis in circumstances denoting that it was not intended for his personal use.

Mercieca was also accused of simple possession of ecstasy and cocaine.

Inspector Mercieca told Magistrate Rachel Montebello how, over the past few months, the police had been investigating the importation of illicit substances concealed inside white goods. This had led to a recent arrest and arraignment of a man over the discovery of three kilograms of cannabis grass hidden inside one such household appliance.

That package had been imported into Malta on one of the trucks belonging to the accused’s company, said the inspector, adding that another package containing five kilograms of cannabis grass was subsequently found hidden inside a fridge, during an inspection of the company’s truck compound. 

The fridges had been sent to Malta from Spain, addressed to names which the police say do not appear to exist. “So far these fictitious people have been receiving packages since May 2022,” said the inspector, explaining that around seven such deliveries are believed to have been made. The sender has not yet been identified, the inspector added.

The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi asked the court to grant the man bail, explaining that the defendant had been arrested at the compound, after obeying a phone call from the police, requesting his presence.

Police bail had been granted after the man had spent around 40 hours in custody.

“But every item, document, electronic device requested by the police had been handed over with no problems,” said the lawyer.

“The evidence which the prosecution is expected to gather has already been preserved in the magisterial inquiry and the relevant electronic data has been extracted by a court-appointed expert…so far the civilian witnesses are Mercieca’s employees who have already been questioned by the police without any obstruction by the defendant,” Azzopardi submitted, suggesting that bail should also be granted in view of the defendant’s cooperation and his lack of a criminal record.

The prosecution objected to Mercieca’s release at this stage, on the grounds that the charges related to a grave offence. “The charges deal with the supply of drugs to a criminal organisation, either to disseminate in Malta or to transship them abroad,” said the inspector, adding that people had already been charged in connection with this case and that others are expected to be charged in future.

Employees of the freight handling company had not yet testified and there were many documents which still needed to be analysed, added the inspector.

Azzopardi counter-argued that the gravity of the crime will not change, and neither would the documents, which had already been collected by the police and inquiry. The prosecution had 30 days from today to collect the remaining evidence and question witnesses, pointed out the lawyer. “He shouldn’t say that he’s still investigating, because his case has now started. They must bring evidence now, not investigate.”

The request for bail was denied by the court, due to the ongoing investigation, the magistrate saying that this was reasonable in view of the charges and the fact that civilian witnesses were yet to give evidence. The court said it was not satisfied that there was no risk of the defendant attempting to tamper with the evidence against him.