Drug smuggling gang acquitted 17 years later, for not having lawyer during interrogation

Eight acquitted of involvement in 2001 drug-smuggling conspiracy due to lack of evidence due to subsequent legal developments

A court has acquitted eight people of drug smuggling, in a case dating back 17 years, laying the blame squarely at the feet of governments who refused to introduce the right to a lawyer during interrogation.

The eight individuals, who were allegedly involved in a plot to smuggle a substantial amount of drugs into Malta, were acquitted due to lack of evidence after much of it was declared inadmissible due to subsequent legal developments.

Yvette Muscat, 53, of Iklin, Trudy Testa, 43, of Mqabba, Pierre Camilleri, 36, of St Paul’s Bay, Carmen Armeni, 57, of Mqabba, Sylvana Bugeja, 45, of Gharghur, Juma Said Karfoosh, 51, of Hamrun, champion bowler Suzanne Abela, 51, of Sliema and Albert Bugeja, 45, of Gzira had been arraigned back in November 2002, part of a group of 19 persons who allegedly made up a drug-trafficking ring which was coordinated from Corradino prison, where four of the persons charged were at the time serving time behind bars.

These were Emanuel Camilleri, known as ‘Leli l-Bully’, Charles Muscat, ‘Il-Pips’, Alfred Bugeja, ‘il-Porporina’, and Mario Camilleri, ‘l-Imniehru’, the latter killed alongside his son Mario Jr in a double murder back in 2013.

At a later stage, following a request for a separation of proceedings, these eight co-accused were prosecuted separately over accusations issued in October 2009.

2001 drugs bust

The case revolves around a Drugs Squad operation, carried out in 2001. The police had been tipped off about a plan, which was thought to have been coordinated by a number of prison inmates using their close acquaintances on the outside, for the importation of a large consignment of drugs into Malta. In a joint operation, the Maltese and Italian police forces had thwarted the plan to import two kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin and some 2000 ecstasy pills from Holland to Malta, via Sicily.

The Italian police had moved in right as two Maltese men, Fabio Psaila and Raymond Borg, had been about to take delivery of the shipment in Catania.

Police investigations revealed that Yvette Muscat, wife of Charles Muscat, Trudy Testa, then girlfriend of Emanuel Camilleri, Pierre Camilleri, son of Mario Camilleri, as well as Albert Bugeja, brother of Alfred Bugeja, had been given instructions as to how to deal with the consignment from their jailed relatives.

Carmen Armeni and her sister Sylvana Bugeja had allegedly been sent to Catania to ferry the drug to Malta, concealed inside a hidden compartment inside Armeni’s car.

Juma Said Karfoosh, a mechanic, had allegedly been tasked with implementing the necessary alterations to Armeni’s car prior to the Sicily trip.

Meanwhile, Suzanne Abela, a former girlfriend of Emanuel Camilleri, had allegedly been instructed by her then boyfriend, who was serving time in jail, to travel to Sicily with the money intended for the drug consignment. She had already done so on two earlier occasions, allegedly travelling to Holland where she had handed over “thousands of Maltese liri” to the Dutch supplier.

No conviction

But after carrying out an intensive analysis of the evidence – some 30 volumes in all- Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, concluded that there could be no conviction.

This was primarily because much of the evidence, namely the statements made to police without a lawyer present, had to be declared inadmissible due to subsequent legal developments.

The court said that the responsibility for this belonged to those who had failed to introduce the necessary amendments to criminal law.

Phone calls between the accused and their alleged handlers at Corradino, intercepted by the authorities had only mentioned payments to be made, but the court could find no link whatsoever between the payments and the drug-trafficking racket.

To top it all off, a court-appointed expert examining Armeni’s car had reported that there were no signs of tampering with the fuel tank and no hidden compartments.

On the basis of the admissible evidence, the court declared the eight co-accused not guilty of all charges.

Lawyers Joe Brincat, Arthur Azzopardi, Kathleen Grima and Edward Gatt were defence counsel to the accused.