Three years jail and €488,000 fine for cigarette smugglers

The police had been alerted by an informant that a consignment of cigarettes was to arrive in Malta by boat under cover of darkness in July 2013

Three men involved in a cigarette smuggling operation have been jailed and fined nearly half a million euros each, in a case which saw two other men acquitted due to lack of evidence.

Michael Borg, 43, from Paola, Anthony Cremona, 47, from Hamrun, Shannon Cauchi, 29, from Hamrun, Robert Agius, 34, from St Paul’s Bay and Paul Anthony Pisani, 47, from Safi were accused of having conspired to smuggle thousands of contraband cigarettes into Malta, evading thousands of euros in import taxes.

The police had been alerted by an informant that a consignment of cigarettes was to arrive in Malta by boat under cover of darkness in July 2013.

On the night of July 10, sea patrols had caught sight of the Blue Dolphin I, a long-liner registered to Michael Borg, the captain of the vessel, heading from Gozo to St Paul’s Bay.

Once the vessel went alongside at Ghajn Fekruna, the patrols observed the crew unloading boxes from the Blue Dolphin I into a white van. Two men were waiting ashore and helped the process along. They fled when the police appeared.

The van, with Cremona behind the wheel and Cauchi as a passenger was found in St Venera, its cargo still inside, covered in black plastic wrap.

Officers found 1,030,800 cigarettes, Business Royals and Tradition brands inside the boxes, valued at €29,870 with an Import Duty of €17,205 and liable to an Excise Duty of €145,487 and €34,661 in VAT.

The captain of the vessel was arrested together with an Indonesian sailor, employed by the ship owner. This sailor was later released from arrest and in a later identification parade, picked out Pisani and Agius from a police lineup.

These two, alongside the captain of the Blue Dolphin I and the occupants of the van, were charged with involvement in contraband. The captain was separately charged with breaching fisheries regulations, while Cauchi was separately charged with breaching a Probation Order.

The court, presided over by former magistrate Anthony Vella, observed the captain had been arrested on the spot and his fingerprints found on the boxes loaded onto the van.

The van driver, Cremona, had admitted to having hired the vehicle to transport the load of cigarettes to St Venera, with the court concluding that his passenger, Cauchi, must have also been aware of the nature of the cargo being transported.

However, with regards to the other two co-accused, the court noted that only the identification by the Indonesian sailor had linked Pisani and Agius to the crime. The sailor had not been clear in saying whether he had seen the two on the night or on other occasions.

Pisani and Agius were acquitted due to insufficient evidence. However the court declared the other three co-accused guilty as charged and condemned all three to 3 years imprisonment together with a fine of €488,077.86 each.

The captain was also fined an additional €379 for the breach of fisheries regulations. The court also ordered the confiscation of the vessel as well as the contraband cargo seized by the authorities.

Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla and Inspector Yvonne Farrugia prosecuted.

Lawyer Arthur Azzopardi was defence counsel to Mr Pisani and Mr Agius.

Lawyers Veronique Dalli, Franco Debono and Alfred Abela were defence counsel to the other co-accused.

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