Cocaine trafficking trial by jury nears end

The trial by jury of Ikechukwu Stephen Egbo – accused of conspiring to pick up a drug mule carrying cocaine to Malta from the Netherlands – is drawing to an end as defence and prosecution deliver final address

Lawyers on both sides have made their closing arguments as the trial of Ikechukwu Stephen Egbo nears its end.

Nigerian-born Egbo, 39, of San Gwann, is accused of conspiring to pick up Attila Somiyai, a drug mule carrying cocaine to Malta from the Netherlands in November 2010, upon Somiyai's arrival on a flight from Dusseldorf.

The authorities had successfully intercepted the drug courier and found him to have ingested 60 capsules of cocaine, containing over half a kilogramme of the drug with a street value of over €44,000. Egbo was arrested during a controlled delivery operation.

This morning, defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace dissected the account which Somiyai gave to the jury yesterday. Attila's testimony had been discredited by the fact that expert witnesses had confirmed that there was no communication between Attila and the accused, contradicting Attila's claim to have been talking to him on the phone, said the lawyer, arguing that this should already create reasonable doubt in favour of his client.

Micallef Stafrace said that there were procedural shortcomings in the police investigation, adding that he expected better from officers who had been working for many years in the Drugs Squad.

He mentioned CCTV footage from the supermarket where the witness and the accused had supposed to be meeting. At no point did the footage show Attila near Egbo, pointed out the lawyer. “The footage shows absolutely nothing,” Micallef Stafrace said.

Attila, the prosecution's star witness,was lying, continued the defence, and had not run out of the shop, as he had contended. “These are all lies he told to get a reduced sentence. And if he lied about relatively small things, this seeds doubts as to how truthful the rest of his testimony was.”

“We don't have the bag allegedly used for the drugs, we don't have the mobile phone from which the phone call was allegedly made and we don't have Attila's movements in the supermarket on CCTV.”

“We shouldn't even be here today, because there is nothing here except the words of a witness who is lying,” Micallef Stafrace said, asking how Egbo could have carried out a drug deal when no cash had been found on his person. “There is no physical evidence tying Egbo to the drugs,” insisted the lawyer.

Don't expect to see accused smiling at the camera, prosecutor warns 

In her reply, lawyer Giannella Busuttil from the office of the Attorney General explained that Attila had been tried, found guilty and was currently serving a nine-year prison sentence.

The prosecutor said it was an “ugly truth” that drug traffickers prey on vulnerable persons who are desperate for money and ready to take great risks to carry drugs. “There is the risk of capture as well as the risk to their health should the capsules burst inside them.”

Drug couriers were never trusted with cash, she said.

The drugs themselves were of a very high purity, which indicated that it was going to be mixed with cutting agents to increase the quantity and profits, Busuttil said.

The evidence had to be seen as a whole, said the prosecutor. “The defence is pointing at the CCTV footage in isolation... alone it doesn't mean anything, or rather it could mean anything. You have to look at the facts you have and the circumstances. If all the circumstantial evidence points to one direction then it is significant and must be relied on, said the lawyer. “In this case we have a lot of circumstantial evidence.”

Although there was no “video of Mr Egbo smiling at the camera,” the prosecutor submitted that the evidence indicated that Egbo had been “very, very much well aware” of the agreement and that he had gone to the Roma hotel “for a very specific purpose. He went to collect the 60 cocaine capsules brought by Attila from Holland on the instructions of the Nigerian boss,” Busuttil said.

Presiding judge Edwina Grima will address the 12 jurors after both parties rest their case, when the jury will retire to deliberate on a verdict.

Lawyer Giannella Busuttil is prosecuting on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General. Lawyers Simon Micallef Stafrace and Marc Sant are defence counsel.

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