Cigarette smuggling operation suspects granted bail

James Azzopardi and James Spiteri both from Qormi and Redeemer Camilleri from Marsa - who stand accused of the importation and possession of smuggled contraband cigarettes as well as tax and duty evasion - have been granted bail

Three men suspected of smuggling some 870,000 contraband cigarettes, who were arrested by the police in the Fekruna area last month, have been granted bail.

James Azzopardi and James Spiteri both from Qormi and Redeemer Camilleri from Marsa stand accused of the importation and possession of smuggled contraband cigarettes, as well as tax and duty evasion.

Azzopardi alone is accused of possessing an unregistered boat and of breaching bail conditions imposed on him last July.

This afternoon, Inspector Mark Mercieca from the Drug Squad testified about the events leading up to the arrests on November 8 when police, acting on a tip-off, had started covert surveillance of a boat which Azzopardi kept at a private compound at Hal Farrug.

The day before, on November 7, the surveillance team observed the boat being towed to Msida where at around 4.00pm, it was lowered into the sea sailed off, before returning to berth at Gzira.

At around midnight that night, the boat had set sail again, with Azzopardi and Camilleri on board. A Peugeot Partner van, driven earlier that day by Azzopardi, had left Gzira towards 2.00am.

Half an hour later, the surveillance team spotted the van at Fekruna, limits of Xemxija, parked close to the boat which had sailed from Gzira. Azzopardi and Camilleri were observed to be on board, Spiteri ashore, standing in the vicinity.

Boxes were being unloaded from the boat onto the van, Inspector Mercieca told the court.

Police fired a warning shot, the court was told, causing Azzopardi to jump into the sea. A policeman dived in after him and made the arrest. The other two men were also arrested by other officers.

A search of the boat revealed the cigarettes, packed in boxes labeled ‘Business Royals’, stacked on the front deck and up to the ceiling of the front cabin.

Three similar boxes were found inside the van.

In today’s sitting magistrate Ian Farrugia upheld the defence’s request for bail against a deposit of €5,000 and a personal guarantee of €5,000 for Camilleri and Spiteri.

Azzopardi was also granted bail, secured by a deposit of €15,000 and a personal guarantee of €5,000. All three were ordered to sign the bail book three times a week and obey a curfew.

The case continues.

Inspector Rennie Stivala is prosecuting. Lawyer Michael Sciriha is defending Azzopardi, lawyer Franco Debono is assisting Camilleri. Lawyer Joseph Giglio is appearing for Spiteri.

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