Libyan businessman acquitted of transferring passport

In a judgment acquitting Ramdan Mostfa Mousa, the court held that, as the accused received the passports while he was still in Libya, the laws of Malta could not apply

A court has freed a Libyan businessman who was charged, last September, with receiving passports not appertaining to him, after it noted that Maltese law only prohibited the transfer of passports between persons, not the possession of other people's passports.

Mohamed Ramdan Mostfa Mousa had been arraigned before Magistrate Gabriella Vella on September 4th this year, after airport customs officers had found nine passports in his baggage, together with nine visa application forms, upon his arrival on a flight from Libya. Mousa himself had a valid passport and Maltese residence permit and owns property on the island, the court was told.

Maltese law prohibits the transferring of passports to persons other than the person in whose name the passport is issued.

The Libyan’s defence lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Shazoo Ghaznavi had told the court that Libyan citizens effectively had no other means of obtaining a visa to travel. Azzopardi had explained how previously, as there was no Maltese visa office in Libya, travellers would apply for a 15-day visa at the airport upon their arrival.

But this practise had been stopped and replaced by a 90-day visa which required applicants to apply in advance and give notice of where they would be staying. The current reality in Libya, however, meant that there was no way to inform the Libyan public of this change, argued the lawyer.

Azzopardi explained that the Central Visa Unit was insisting that in order to apply for a visa, the original, physical passports must be presented in Malta, in advance of the bearer’s arrival. Even less practical was its policy of refusing to accept passports delivered by courier, only accepting passports brought to the airport by the person hosting the visitor.

With no other method of bringing in the passports for visa processing, Libyans were with left with one option: that of sending their physical passports, together with their visa applications, with someone else in advance of their arrival, argued the defence.

In a judgment handed down this morning, Magistrate Gabriella Vella found the man not guilty. Magistrate Vella held that, as the offence of transferring a passport was one of an instantaneous nature and the prosecution had itself demonstrated that the accused received the passports while he was still in Libya, the laws of Malta could not apply.

Had the law wanted to penalise the continued possession of passports belonging to persons other than the bearer, said the magistrate, it would have explicitly said so in the same way it did for other offences of possession.

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