Man wanted in Italy over 10 tonne cannabis smuggling operation claims unlawful arrest

The man’s lawyers argued that though the shipment was thought to be destined for Italy, the alleged crime had actually taken place in international waters

(File photo)
(File photo)

A Maltese man who was arrested as part of an investigation into the smuggling of 10 tonnes of cannabis resin following a request by Italian authorities has claimed illegal arrest.

The 41-year-old Maltese national was arraigned late on Thursday afternoon and denied bail by magistrate Monica Vella. However, his lawyers Pawlu Lia and Alessando Lia, today argued that the arrest was illegal, because the defence was not in possession of documentation related to the charges issued against the man in Italy.

The lawyers invoked the habeas corpus action, through which a person can report unlawful detention and request the court to determine whether this is the case.

Although the shipment was thought to be destined for Italy, the alleged crime had actually taken place in international waters, the lawyers said.  

During Thursday’s European Arrest Warrant hearing, which was punctuated by hostile exchanges between the defence and the prosecution, the accused did not give his consent to be extradited. In cases where an arrest warrant is issued against a person, they are first asked to give their consent to be extradited, with the court proceeding to hear evidence and order the extradition if consent is not given.

Regarding the defence invoking the habeas corpus action, the court said that this could no longer be invoked because the man had been arraigned yesterday. It pointed out that the remedy could only be invoked in the case of an illegal arrest.

Lia countered by saying that the police were not investigating his client meaning that if the arraignment was illegal, so too was his continued detention. If the man was arrested illegally, then the continued arrest of the man should also be taken as illegal, the lawyer argued.

George Camilleri, from the Attorney General’s office, submitted that the habeas corpus action filed by the defence did not respect the law as the arrest was made under subsidiary legislation which had a whole section relating to the arrest.

“This is not a normal arrest, because the person is not being investigated in Malta,” he said.

Habeas corpus does not apply to special proceedings, the prosecution said.

The court said it had difficulty with the application because the habeas corpus action was extinguished by the arraignment. It said that if the man was arraigned within a 48-hour period, the habeas corpus action was not applicable.

The point regarding the validity of the arrest should have been dealt with during the arraignment, but it had not, which is why it was being discussed today, the lawyers countered.

The court however, pointed out that this had happened and the arresting inspector had testified about it.

The court, seeing that today’s sitting was about a habeas corpus application filed by the accused, said that the same accused had been arraigned yesterday before the court as presided.

The defence was attacking the validity of the arrest, arguing that the reasons given in the application were still valid and consequently asked the court to hear and decide on the arguments it was putting forward.

The prosecution objected, saying that the validity of the arrest had already been dealt with during the arraignment and that bail had been refused.

At this stage, the defence withdrew its habeas corpus application, saying it would make its submissions when the case proper continued.

Lawyers George Camilleri and Ylenia Abela appeared for the Office of the Attorney General, Inspector Mark Galea prosecuted.

Lawyers Pawlu Lia and Alessandro Lia appeared for the defendant.

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