Charge sheet mishap leads to immediate release of man accused of people smuggling

Prosecutors file fresh charge sheet instead of amending original one, rendering arrest warrant invalid

A court has ordered the immediate release from arrest of a company director charged with migrant smuggling and computer misuse, after the prosecution added new charges by filing a fresh charge sheet, as opposed to amending the original one, thereby rendering the warrant, under which he was being held under arrest, invalid.

Andrea D’Amato, 37, from Mosta, an ICT professional and company director pleaded not guilty to the additional charges of money laundering and making false declarations to a public authority when the case against him continued before Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech on Wednesday. 

Lawyer Franco Debono, assisting D’Amato together with lawyer Alfred Abela, asked the prosecution to justify the man’s re-arrest, arguing that the new charge sheet stated that D’Amato was being arraigned today under arrest.

“So these proceedings are starting again. He has been under arrest for a week and instead of adding new charges and arrainging him by summons, they opted to start all over again.”

Debono asked whether the defendant had been questioned about the new charges and whether he had received disclosure of the relevant evidence, warning the court that the case was “treading on dangerous ground.”

Inspector Karl Roberts explained that the defendant’s alleged money laundering had emerged when he had already been charged. “During his statement he mentioned trafficking of persons and forgery which are all proceeds of crime,” added the inspector, to which the court replied that receiving the proceeds of crime was not the same as money laundering.

The issuing of new charges meant that the old charge sheet no longer applied, argued Abela. 
New charges means the old charge sheet no longer applies, argued Abela, an argument which prosecutor Ramon Bonett Sladden described as academic and overruled by practical reality.

Both sides engaged in heated argument about whether the charges were new. Bonett Sladden bristled when Debono accused him of misleading the court.

The court, too, told the prosecution that it was “a legal obscenity” to charge people without disclosure of the evidence against them. 

“There is a difference between simply adding charges and issuing new charges with today’s date, filed on today’s date. Therefore saying that they had added charges was misleading the court,” Debono insisted. “Once the old charges have been substituted, what is the defendant’s status vis-a-vis arrest in proceedings which are now extinct?” he asked.

After retiring to chambers for over an hour, the magistrate resumed the sitting to hand down her decree about the validity of the arrest. There was no doubt that until the moment the new charges were presented today, the defendant’s arrest had been valid in terms of a warrant of arrest which had been issued on May 6.

“Now the prosecution has opted to, instead of requesting an addition to the existing charges which would allow the arrest to continue, chosen to present a new case, as the wording of the charge sheet attests. 

“This means that the defendant’s arrest is no longer sustained by the original arrest warrant, on the basis of which he was arraigned to face charges on May 14. In the light of this, the Court is ordering the defendant’s release.” The case against D’Amato will now be assigned to be heard like other cases where the defendants are charged by summons.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Alfred Abela assisted D’Amato.