The Malta Independent 25 July 2017, Tuesday

Human trafficking trial: Prosecution in final submissions, says accused changed his story

Wednesday, 11 January 2017, 14:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

The prosecution in the trial of Hadish Abayu, who stands charged with human trafficking, today told jurors that they should not believe the accused because his current version of events was different to what he had told investigators 11 years ago.

Lawyer Vincienne Vella, from the Office of the Attorney General, was making her final submissions on the third day of the trial, which revolves around a 2005 voyage destined for Italy but which ended up in Malta.

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Mr Abayu, 58, is pleading not guilty to charges of people smuggling and complicity in the trafficking of persons. He is believed to be one of the masterminds behind the trip, during which 181 people left Libya in the direction of Italy.

Yesterday the accused told jurors that he was just another passenger who was mistaken for one of the people smugglers. He claimed that he had been instructed by one of the smugglers to collect money from 55 passengers, including him, and had been mistaken for one of the smugglers. But the prosecution today attacked Mr Abayu’s account, saying that the 180 victims “did not wake up one morning and decide to point out Abayu as their trafficker.”

Dr Vella said the accused has given two different versions. In 2006 he told investigators he was reported to the authorities (as being one of the smugglers) because of his past as a political commissioner in Ethiopia. Now he was telling a different story and claiming that he was outed because he had collected money from six people who had never made it off the Libyan coast.

Mr Abayu had also claimed he had no money to support his wife and children, who already lived in Malta before he left Libya, but had plans to study in London. When that plan failed the accused went to live in Switzerland, an expensive country.  He claimed his wife’s family had sent him the money needed to pay for the trip but had failed to prove this through any documents or proof of wire transfers.

Dr Vella said the prosecution had presented the best evidence available, even if there was always room for improvement. She said the Attorney General's office has 14 prosecutors and, as such had to rely heavily on the police to conduct investigations. Immigration police also had a heavy workload. The lawyer argued, however, that the authorities would not have moved against the accused without sufficient evidence.

The lawyer also said jurors should see the case through the context of what was happening 11 years ago, when boatload after boatload of African migrants was landing in Malta.

The accused yesterday admitted to escaping from Malta (to Switzerland), justifying it by saying he could not find work here, and also to illegally entering Malta. But he said he had no option, and that his priority back then was to re-join his family.

During the course of the trial, which is rather short by normal standards, the prosecution read out the statements of several passengers who had given their money to Mr Abayu before boarding the boat in Libya.

The trial will resume in the afternoon.

Defence lawyer Simon Micallef Stafrace is appearing for Mr Abayu. 

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