The Malta Independent 10 December 2016, Saturday

Defence argues about inhumane conditions in Lithuania in extradition case

Helena Grech Tuesday, 26 January 2016, 13:00 Last update: about 12 months ago

The Court of Appeal this morning heard arguments for and against the reversal of an extradition judgement against Maltese-Australian Angelo Spiteri. A request for bail is also being considered, both are to be decided on 17 February.

Mr Spiteri is facing extradition charges to Lithuania due to alleged fraud of his travel company, named “Atostogi sandèlis. He is registered as the director and has been accused of deliberately failing to provide the services for which he had already received payment for.

If found guilty of the 4 charges brought against him in Lithuania, Mr Spiteri could be facing 17 years in prison.

Madame Justice Edwina Grima presided over the case. The prosecution was represented by Inspector Mario Cuschieri and Dr Vincenne Vella representing the Attorney General. Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Kris Busietta and Patrick Valentino are representing the accused.

An application was filed last week, in which the decision by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja to allow extradition was labelled by the defence as a court failure to “uphold the duties imposed on it neither as a Court of Law implementing a quintessentially European Union legislation which has respect for fundamental human rights as its leitmotif, nor as a Court of a Member State bound (in the international law sense) to refuse extradition to a country which is the scourge of Europe as far the inhuman and degrading treatment meted out in its notorious prisons goes.”

Mr Spiteri is claiming that Magistrate Bugeja had “turned a Nelson’s eye” to the savage prison system in Lithuania. The appeal which has been filed brought attention to the “disgusting and stomach-turning human rights breaches for which Lithuanian prisoners are so notorious.”

In a previous hearing, the court denied a request by the defence team for the court to seek a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice on whether European legislation regulating the European Arrest Warrant had been erroneously transposed into local law by the Maltese legislator.

The current appeal therefore harshly criticises the decision to approve a European Arrest Warrant for the accused, as a “dereliction of Treaty of the European-imposed obligations.” Dr Azzopardi focused on how the arrest warrant was issued in line with the provisions of an EU framework decision. He clearly stated that nobody shall be subject to extradition where the country they would be sent to has a “serious risk” of inhumane treatment and torture.

“We are no longer talking about risk here, but on abuses which are actually still going on,” he told the court.

“Our court cannot ignore the EU Treaty which is based on the respect for human rights, and so it cannot be an accomplice in such breaches,” Dr Azzopardi added.

Reference was made to a judgement handed down by the ECHR, when Markus Kardišauskas filed a case against the Lithuanian government. He was left with a 10% disability after receiving a beating he received by fellow inmates at a Lithuanian prison in 2003. The case was mentioned to stress the vulnerability, and physical risks experienced by prison inmates in that country.

Dr Azzopardi had made reference to a number of other cases which highlight the ongoing abuse inside Lithuanian prison systems.

The defence team suggested that if the Court of Appeal has not been swayed by their arguments, it should at the very least seek advice of the European Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling.

Dr Azzopardi said that Malta has the least number references made to the ECJ for preliminary rulings with just 2. Cyprus has 7 who joined after Malta and Germany has about 2000. He continued by saying that the Attorney General is not aware of Malta’s obligations as a member state.

Dr Vella put forward the argument that the person making the complaint had every right to seek redress before the Constitutional Court. She then said that the first court was not in actual fact obliged to request a preliminary judgement from the ECJ.

With regard to the request for bail, the prosecution had not opposed this however later changed its tune. 

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