'Cannabis soap' suspect's police statement must be expunged

A police statement made by a man caught with a consignment he thought was cannabis but eventually turned out to be soap, cannot be used as evidence, the constitutional court rules

The man stands accused of conspiring to import drugs that turned out to be soap bars
The man stands accused of conspiring to import drugs that turned out to be soap bars

The case against a man accused of conspiring to smuggle 30kg of soap which he thought was cannabis looks unlikely to go ahead after a constitutional court ruled that his statement to police was inadmissible.

Marvin Debono was arrested along with three other men in 2009, after police swooped in on a suspected drug smuggling operation.

The men were arrested in the area known as L-Irdum ta’ Miġra l-Ferħa near Mtaħleb in two cars after having ostensibly picked up 30kg of cannabis from the beach.

The consignment had arrived via dinghy launched from an anchored yacht, the Jolly Roger, which had sailed to Malta from Libya.

A court-appointed expert had later discovered that the substance thought to be cannabis was actually soap.

Despite this, the men were charged with, amongst other things, conspiracy to import drugs.

Although the case may appear petty, at law, the crime of conspiracy to traffic drugs is completed the moment the parties agree on a mode of action – in this case to smuggle the drug by sea.

Although the ‘drugs’ turned out to be soap, this had no bearing on the particular crime itself, which is punished in the same manner as trafficking, by up to life imprisonment.

In his application to the First Hall of the Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, Debono’s lawyers at the time, Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi and Marion Camilleri, had claimed that he was not provided with legal assistance when he was arrested and investigated.

The statement he had released, unassisted by legal counsel, and which the prosecution was expected to have based its case, was inadmissible in view of the now copious case law to this effect.

In his judgment on the matter, Judge Joseph R. Micallef ruled that Debono’s right to a fair hearing had not been breached at this stage, but agreed with the defence and ordered that the statement was to be expunged from the acts of the case against him as it was inadmissible.