Three cleared on appeal of smuggling a million contraband cigarettes

At no point did the prosecution sufficiently prove that the boxes seized actually contained contraband cigarettes, said the court

The men was arrested in July 2013 when a boat carrying the boxes morred at St Paul's Bay
The men was arrested in July 2013 when a boat carrying the boxes morred at St Paul's Bay

The Court of Criminal Appeal has overturned the conviction of three men who had been jailed last summer for smuggling boxes containing over a million contraband cigarettes after it heard that it was not established whether the boxes in question actually contained any cigarettes at all.

Shannon Cauchi, 30, Anthony Cremona, 47 and Michael Borg, 44, had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment together with a fine of €488,000 for evading import taxes and VAT.

Madam Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, in her judgment exonerating the men, noted that at no point had the prosecution exhibited any evidence that the boxes seized contained contraband cigarettes and that a key witness had been inconsistent.

The appeals court said there was reasonable doubt as to whether the men had committed the offence or not and in criminal matters if this is not proven then guilt cannot be found.

There was no proof as to the contents of the boxes supposedly containing the cigarettes, said the court, and it had therefore not been proven that they contained contraband.

The Court of Appeal said that it expected the prosecution to present photographs of the content of the boxes, not just of the boxes. Once this is established, then it would be up to the accsued to prove that the taxes and duties had been paid.

Another aspect noted by the court was that the testimony of an Indonesian man who had been with the Maltese men at the time of their arrest was not consistent.

The trio had been arrested in July 2013 when a boat carrying the boxes moored at St. Paul’s Bay. The boxes had been unloaded and moved next to a van which left the scene as soon as the police were spotted. Michael Borg was the skipper of the boat, whilst Anthony Cremona drove the van and Cauchi had been a passenger.

The van was later found at Santa Venera, with the plastic-wrapped boxes inside it. The prosecution had claimed that the boxes contained 1,030,800 cigarettes worth €29,870, subject to an importation tax of €17,205 and excise duty of €145,487 as well as €34,661 in VAT.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Ian Abdilla and Inspector Yvonne Farrugia prosecuted. Lawyers Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri, Arthur Azzopardi, Veronique Dalli, Dean Hili and Alfred Abela appeared for the accused.

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