Court rules convictions for aggravated cannabis possession ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory’

Drugs were found inside a white Peugeot 205 with four occupants when it was stopped as it tried to drive away from the police - but only the passengers were charged

Cannabis was found in a car in which the accused were travelling (file photo)
Cannabis was found in a car in which the accused were travelling (file photo)

Two people have been cleared and a third has had his sentence reduced on appeal, after a court ruled their conviction for aggravated possession of cannabis as unsafe and unsatisfactory.

The case dates back to October 2018, when a white Peugeot 205, with four people inside it, tried to drive away when approached by the police as it was illegally parked at the side of the road in Marsa, but was blocked from doing so.
Raymond Grech, Jame Hassan Abdullahi, Edward Grech and Anne Axiaq were inside the Peugeot.

Abdullahi was found to be carrying €3,300 in cash, together with a knuckleduster and had become aggressive when the police asked him to hand them over. A black bag containing pieces of cannabis plants was found under his seat.

In October 2018, Edward Grech, 36, Anne Axiak 48 and Abdillahi Jamale Hassan, 32, were charged with possession of cannabis, with the charges being aggravated as the drugs were found in a manner indicating that they were intended for sale.

Abdullahi alone was also charged with carrying a knuckleduster without a licence issued by the police.

All three pleaded not guilty, but in June 2019, the Court of Magistrates had jailed Grech for 16 months, Axiak for 14 months and Hassan for 22 months, fining them €1000 each.

Grech had appealed, his lawyer, Ishmael Psaila arguing that the prosecution had held on to evidence which could exculpate him. At no point during the proceedings or the argument stage was the prosecution able to cite a logical reason for Edward Grech to be found guilty of the charge “aside from, conveniently, being interpreted that he was the brains behind these alleged drugs, which were ready for dispatching,” said the lawyer.

It was clear, Psaila argued, that the first court had discredited the appellant simply because of CCTV footage which show the accused going in and out of a car. But at no time was the accused alone in the footage, and neither had he made any movement indicating knowledge of the drugs. The involvement of Grech’s father Raymond was not proven and the only person who was found to be carrying the money and a knuckleduster was Hassan, under whose seat the drugs were also found, he said.

There were also doubts as to the forensics work done, he said, after a court expert’s report marked fingerprints belonging to Axiaq as matching Grech’s.

Finally, the appellants argued that the punishment inflicted upon them was excessive.

Axiaq said that the prosecution had not presented all the evidence it had about how it reached the conclusion as to who was the mastermind behind the drug smuggling operation. Although Raymond Grech had been present and was the driver of the car, which was registered in his name, he was never arraigned, she pointed out.

With respect to Axiaq, the court said that the fact that she and the driver did not emerge from the car for a long period of time cannot be interpreted as her having the drugs in her possession or that they were hers.

With regards Edward Grech, the court said that he was “hostile” in his replies during his interrogation, but that this attitude did not mean that the prosecution had proved its case against him.

Abdullahi had explained to the court that he was not registered as employed but sometimes worked as a plasterer and that the large amount of cash he was found to be carrying were obtained through his work and were due to be deposited at the bank. He had been given a lift by the other accused, he said. He knew the younger two by sight and had never seen Grech senior before that day, he said. He had never touched drugs in his life, he claimed.

The court of appeal ruled that although the drugs found certainly were not exclusively for one person, such was the amount found, the prosecution had not proven the connection between Abdullahi and the cannabis.
It did, however, confirm his guilt with regards to the possession of the knuckleduster and recidivism and reduced his sentence to 6 months imprisonment.

Madam justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, presiding the Court of Criminal Appeal, cleared Anne Axiaq and Edward Grech of all wrongdoing and revoked the punishment handed down to them. Abdullahi’s sentence was confirmed only with regards to the illegal weapon and reduced from 22 months’ imprisonment to 6 months. The fines imposed on all three were revoked.

Lawyer Ishmael Psaila appeared for Edward Grech. Lawyer Dustin Camilleri represented Anne Axiaq.