Accused claims breach of human rights in failed cannabis importation case

What was thought to be the last great drugs haul of the year was confirmed to be nothing but 30 kilogrammes of soap stored in three cardboard boxes. This case goes back to January 2009. The soap was thought to be cannabis.

Marvin Debono, 28, from Mtarfa, who was one of four men charged with conspiring to import cannabis, filed a constitutional application claiming a breach of human rights after being denied legal assistance during investigations and the wide discretionary powers of the Attorney General.

Debono was arrested after the police raided a yacht in December 2008. The police intercepted the shipment after they were tipped off that a sailing boat was scheduled to arrive in the Mtahleb area, limits of Rabat, on 27 December.

But the 30 kilogrammes of cannabis the men had allegedly conspired to import turned out to be soap. In his application, signed by Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi and Marion Camilleri, Debono claimed that he was not provided with legal assistance when he was arrested and investigated.

He also claimed that the AG’s discretionary powers to decide whether to send a case to a magistrate or a judge, where the punishment would be substantially higher, were unconstitutional

Debono requested the court declare that his human rights had been breached and to give an effective remedy. When testifying in court in 2009, pharmacist Godwin Sammut said the green substance he tested was not prohibited by law.

He confirmed rumours that the four men were tricked into believing they were importing cannabis resin by their suppliers in Libya, while in effect they were transporting soap, a perfectly legal substance. Ironically, nine-ounce bars of cannabis resin are referred to on the street as “soap”.

Although the defendants were not involved in the transportation of illicit substances, Maltese law stipulates that the mere intention of conspiring to deal in illegal substances constitutes a crime.

The proceedings, presided over by magistrate Miriam Hayman, have been carried out behind closed doors.