The Malta Independent 14 July 2020, Tuesday

Man acquitted of drug charges dating back to 2012

Friday, 26 June 2020, 15:28 Last update: about 17 days ago

A man has been acquitted of drug trafficking charges dating back to 2012 after a court found there was nothing to prove he had a part in any conspiracy. 

Upon his arraignment in May 2012, 36-year-old Robert Agius had pleaded not guilty to involvement in a heroin-trafficking conspiracy, simple possession of cocaine and keeping an unlicensed firearm or ammunition, as well as recidivism.

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The police had identified Agius as a suspect after catching a woman who had arrived in Malta on a flight from Cairo with two plastic blocks filled with heroin.

During questioning, the woman had told the police that she had agreed to smuggle the drugs into Malta for Agius. He had paid her €500 for this and promised a further €1,000 upon delivery of the drugs.

The police Drug Squad set up a controlled delivery, replacing the drug-filled blocks with slabs of wood. 

The woman waited at her rendezvous point until a car, driven by a third party pulled up next to her. Agius was in the passenger seat and the driver’s brother was at the back. 

As the car passed in front of her, the woman had pushed a paper bag containing the dummy drugs through the passenger window, receiving cash in return. The car was stopped further up the road by a police van. 

The accused was arrested and his home was searched. There, police found a suspicious substance believed to be cocaine and a live round from a .38 revolver. 

But as criminal proceedings against Agius began, the woman refused to testify as separate criminal proceedingsg  were still pending against her. 

The proceedings dragged on for years as a result. Agius’ lawyers had filed a constitutional application, arguing that their client’s right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time had been breached. This was upheld by the First Hall of the Civil Court two years ago.

In its judgment, that court had ruled as unacceptable the prosecution’s insistence on summoning the woman as a crucial witness, despite her exercising her right not to testify while her appeal had yet to be heard.

Following that judgment, the criminal case resumed, six years after Agius’ arraignment.

Delivering an acquittal on Wednesday, the court, presided by magistrate Neville Camilleri, noted that the driver of the vehicle had testified how the woman had pushed a bag through the open window and how his passenger, Agius, had immediately tossed it back out on to the road. 

Another witness, a man from Egypt who had lived in Malta for 25 years before returning and setting up company in his home country, had told the court how he had once met Agius and his business partner in Egypt.

The two Maltese men had commissioned him to buy olives, oil and other foodstuffs for their hotels. Nothing else was discussed, he said.

Having seen all the evidence exhibited, which included footage of the controlled delivery, the court concluded that the drug-trafficking conspiracy charge remained unproven. 

Citing a raft of previous court judgments, the magistrate declared that the prosecution had not proven the accused’s intention to sell or traffic drugs, nor his alleged agreement with other co-conspirators nor any plan to complete the crime. 

With regards to the charge of possession of cocaine, the court observed that the substance suspected of being cocaine was never tested and hence, was not proven to be cocaine. 

The court dismissed all the charges, save that regarding the unlicensed round of ammunition found at the accused’s home – for which the man was ordered to pay a €500 fine. 

Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Alfred Abela and Rene’ Darmanin defended Agius.

 

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