Illegal bullet smuggling to Libya: witness warned of perjury

Gozitan who admitted to manufacturing undeclared ammunition sold to Libya, takes witness stand but is warned about the consequences of lying under oath.

Mario Farrugia of Xaghra, Gozo, recalled reloading over 19,000 9mm bullets for Michael Azzopardi and failing to declare them.

Testifying in the compilation of evidence against Michael Azzopardi and Yaacob Feraj, Farrugia said he had manufactured bullets for the accused on three separate occasions. The first two times he manufactured 3,000 rounds each time, and the last time he reloaded 13,000. The cartridges were given to him by Azzopardi himself while the powder was bought from two other dealers. He used primer and bullet heads from his own stock.

The witness did not register the amounts of bullets he manufactured and sold to Azzopardi, despite both men being aware of the regulations. "I freely chose not to register the sales of these bullets and was Azzopardi never asked me not to register them," the witness said.

Azzopardi and Yaacob Feraj are charged with selling the ammunition to Libya despite knowing or suspecting, it could be used against the civilian population.

Farrugia, owner of Hobbies weapons store in Rabat, Gozo, said he has been selling weapons and ammunition for the past nine years. On 22 October, the witness admitted to manufacturing bullets which were eventually shipped to Libya and was handed a two-year jail term suspended for four years

Taking the witness stand Mario Farrugia gave a detailed explanation of the process involved in loading bullets. The bullets consist of three components and gunpowder. The cartridge, the bullet head, the primer are imported by Farrugia himself in a legal way. However when his supplies run short he buys from other local suppliers.

The gunpowder is bought from a supplier and Farrugia is registered to keep up to 7kg at any given time. While all four items have to be declared during importation, there is no need to declared the sale of primer and bullet heads.

The witness said he reloads fired cartridges only for himself. He collects the rounds he fires at a range and reloads them. There is no need to declare the reloaded ammunition as they would have already been declared upon importation.

Mario Farrugia told the court he neither knew nor suspected what the reloaded bullets were used for. "I never asked or suspected why he needed these bullets," the witness said.

Reminded by the two prosecuting officers of his replies during interrogation, the witness insisted he never asked Azzopardi what the bullets were used for.

Defence lawyer Joe Giglio argued that replying in court differently to what one says in a police statement did not constitute perjury. But the still court warned the witness of the consequences of lying under oath.

Claiming that emotion had led him to forget what hat he said previously, Farrugia told the court that he had suspected Azzopardi was selling the reloaded rounds to third parties, with the probability of exporting them to Africa. His suspicions were fueled because of the large quantities of bullets and the fact that no reloading facility existed in Africa. "The only times I did not register Azzopardi's purchases was when he ordered these bullets, however it was strictly my decision," the witness said.

Sergeant Jeffrey Gerada also took the witness stand and explained how on 21 September the police stopped and searched a Toyota Vitz in Mdina Road, being driven by Yaacob Feraj. Inside the car the police found a number of cardboard boxes containing bullets. Following the find, the police also searched the Guns and Cartridges shop in Rabat. During the search, the police seized documents which the shop owner, Michael Azzopardi, was trying to destroy. On the documents, investigators noted figures which tallied with the number of bullets found in the vehicle and the cost of the ammunition. The police also seized €14,590 which were found in a drawer in the shop.

The case is postponed to February 2014.

Inspectors Michael Mallia and Keith Arnaud are prosecuting while lawyers Patrick Valentino, Joe Giglio, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are appearing for the accused.

Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit is presiding.

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"lawyers Patrick Valentino, Joe Giglio, Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are appearing for the accused." With names like these, the accused does not have to worry much, the worst he can do is a few years prison with a suspended sentence to follow. Sign of the times, I believe.