Italian claims he was paid €1,000 to transport cannabis, offered cash from Sicily

32kg of cannabis resin and €42,000 in cash were recovered by police in a Hamrun raid last Thursday

(File Photo)
(File Photo)

The Italian man who was arrested in Hamrun last Thursday with a car stuffed with cannabis and cash had told police that he had been asked to transport the 32 kilogrammes of drugs and €42,000 in cash from Sicily for €1,000.

This emerged from the testimony of Inspector Kevin Pulis as the Drugs Squad inspector took the witness stand against Salvatore Coco today. Coco, 48, had agreed to transport the drugs 20 days before the bust, Pulis told magistrate Neville Camilleri this morning as the compilation of evidence against Coco began.

Coco’s alleged Maltese partners: Michael Aquilina, 45, from Mosta and Gordon Schembri, 31, from Floriana, are charged separately over the operation which netted upwards of 30kg of cannabis resin from Triq San Vincenz in Hamrun.

Coco, 48, is charged with conspiracy to traffic cannabis, importing cannabis, possession of drugs in circumstances which denoted that they were not for his personal use and money laundering.

Aquilina and Schembri are charged with conspiring to traffic cannabis, importation and complicity in the crime as well as money laundering charges. Aquilina alone is accused of failing to abide by court-imposed conditions, while Schembri alone is charged with relapsing.

Inspector Pulis explained that police had been tipped off to a possible trafficking operation involving the three accused and had installed a security perimeter around Triq San Vincenz in Hamrun. He authorised the raid and subsequent search of the three men and the area.

Police had noticed Aquilina driving a green BMW out of a garage complex and had stopped him, before immediately searching the complex where they found Schembri standing next to a Fiat with Italian number plates belonging to Coco. The Fiat was open and two bags of cash were on the driver’s seat, leading police to believe that the drugs were nearby.

Inspector Pulis explained that the officers found a hydraulically-driven “hidden compartment” full of cannabis resin, together with a remote control that Coco explained was used for his garages in Sicily. Coco had told police that the drugs were his.

The BMW was also searched, with mobiles, documents and keys being recovered by the police. The three men were arrested.

Coco had refused to consult with a lawyer but had insisted on giving a sworn statement to inquiring magistrate Francesco Depasquale, where he explained how he had met Aquilina and Schembri 20 days before at a Sliema fast food restaurant and had agreed to traffic the drugs.

Although he didn’t know where it was sourced from, he said his job was to stop at the port at Catania, drive the drugs to Pozzallo and bring them to Malta. He would then meet them and receive his payment of €1,000.

Asked about the cash found on the seat, Coco explained that Schembri had thrown them there and that he had no idea what he had planned to do with it because the police had then turned up.

Schembri and Aquilina did not answer police questions, said the inspector. The case continues on Thursday.

Inspector Kevin Pulis is prosecuting, whilst lawyer Kathleen Grima is appearing for Aquilina and Schembri. Lawyer Gianluca Caruana Curran is defending Salvatore Coco.