Off-duty officer says lucky break led to Sicily smuggling arrest, court to decree on bail from chambers

Police witness claims that accused were known to the police, and thus identified them on the ferry

The officer testified that he had noted the suspicious vehicle in Pozzallo, being driven by Rita Scicluna and with Osaro Osarenkhoe in the passenger seat
The officer testified that he had noted the suspicious vehicle in Pozzallo, being driven by Rita Scicluna and with Osaro Osarenkhoe in the passenger seat

Police officers told a court how a lucky break had led to the arrest of two Nigerian men and a Maltese woman in connection with an attempt to smuggle nearly 4kg of cannabis from Sicily last month, as the compilation of evidence against them continued this afternoon.

The constable told magistrate Neville Camilleri that he had been on holiday in Sicily when, by chance, he had spotted a Maltese female and a black male passenger, who he described as “persons of interest” in a white Toyota Vitz.

The officer testified that he had noted the suspicious vehicle in Pozzallo, being driven by Rita Scicluna and with Osaro Osarenkhoe in the passenger seat. Knowing that the man had been suspected of involvement with drugs, he had called up and tipped off his Malta-based colleagues in the CID. 

At Pozzallo, the officer recalled, he had observed the man taking out one piece of hand luggage and a shoulder bag from the boot of the car and embarking the vessel on foot, leaving the woman to drive onto the catamaran.

Scicluna's husband Nicholas Obaseki had been waiting for them in a BMW 5 series bearing English number plates, the witness said.

Scicluna and Osaro were well-known to the police, he said. Police had been addressing the Paceville drug problem for a long time in what he called a notorious drug dealing spot behind the Paranga restaurant at St George's Bay. There had been a group of "Libyan and African men" who would regularly opportune tourists and offer to sell them drugs from their car, while a female would always remain in the vehicle. A police sergeant said he recognised the three accused in court. Police had conducted searches on the men several times, but these had not been successful, he said.

“He would not have drugs on his person but police knew it would be hidden in the area. There are two main drug-dealing groups operating in the area, one was African and one Libyan, said the sergeant, adding “I am saying all this to explain why I felt suspicious enough to ask the drugs squad to stop them at the port.”

Obaseki is one of the ringleaders, the officer said, and the St George's Bay area of Paceville was a favourite haunt of his.

Scicluna and Osaro were subsequently arrested, together with “the man in the foreign-registered vehicle who had been in the area.”

A child had been in the vehicle with the woman, another Drugs Squad officer told the court, while a fellow officer testified that two plastic bags containing what was suspected to be cannabis grass had been found in the car's engine compartment.

While the police had been searching the woman's person, Obaseki had been ringing her phone constantly, the court was told. When spoken to by the police, he had admitted that the drugs were his. A search of the residence he shared with Scicluna found a crusher together with traces of drugs.

Lawyers Albert Zerafa and Josette Sultana, defending Scicluna and Obaseki, informed the court that they would not be contesting a possible decree, declaring sufficient prima facie evidence for a Bill of indictment to be issued. However, lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Muscat, appearing for Osaro, announced that they would be fighting this pronouncement if it was made, also repeating their request for bail.

Osaro's lawyers argued that his charges were identical to Scicluna's, who had been released on bail on account of her child, pointing out that there were no civilian witnesses still to be heard. There was no reason for the court not to grant bail at this point in time, the defence submitted. 

On his part, prosecuting inspector Gabriel Micallef argued that the accused had no known address or proof of residence. Debono countered, saying that if the police called at the address and did not find his client there, the man would still have to face the consequences. If the court feels that more evidence is necessary, the defence would provide it, he said.

On the issue of prima facie, Debono argued that at this stage of proceedings, the court didn't deal with proof, but rather with reasons for which to place the accused under a Bill of indictment.

All the evidence tendered so far proved only that the accused had been at a certain place at a certain time. The requisites for prima facie must tie the accused to the charges, Debono submitted. Just because the accused had been on a catamaran, or spoken to a person carrying drugs proved nothing. No evidence of constructive or physical possession of the drugs had been shown. “I am very eager to make this point,” he said.

The court announced that it would be issuing a decree on bail from chambers, adding that it will deal with the issue of prima facie in the next sitting, two days from now.

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