The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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Judge confirms US extradition for spyware charges despite mental health pleas

Tuesday, 27 February 2024, 12:28 Last update: about 3 months ago

A judge has confirmed the extradition to the USA of a Maltese man in order to face charges of selling powerful spyware online, after rejecting his appeal in its entirety.

27-year-old Daniel Joe Meli from Zabbar, stood in the dock as the judge read out the decision. Meli had been arrested on February 7 in an operation that had been coordinated by the Malta Police Force and the Office of the Attorney General of Malta, with the support of the FBI and Justice Department. 

Meli’s extradition had been requested by the Northern District of Georgia following his indictment in December 2023, for computer access, damage and interception-related offences. US prosecutors accuse Meli of having offered malware products and services, amongst them the Pegasus remote access trojan (RAT), for sale to cybercriminals through online computer-hacking forums “since at least 2012.”

He had been arraigned on February 9 and had given his consent to the extradition request during that sitting. But after changing lawyers, Meli filed an appeal.

Mr. Justice Neville Camilleri delivered judgement on that appeal this morning.

The judge rejected the appellant’s argument that the first court had been bound to take into account Meli’s history of mental health issues, his stays in psychiatric care and the related medication he was taking. 

The Court of Magistrates was not supposed to investigate whether his acceptance of the extradition request had been made voluntarily or not, said the judge, and neither was it required to order a physical or psychological examination of the defendants who admit guilt before it. “From the acts of the proceedings which the First Court had before it and from that which took place on the day that Meli was arraigned in court, there is absolutely nothing that in some way or another could lead the First Court to doubt Meli’s acceptance,” said the court.

In addition, the court noted that the Court of Magistrates had dictated a note, recording Meli’s declaration that he was consenting to his extradition and invoking the rule of speciality - which means that he was only consenting to being extradited to answer the charges mentioned in the extradition request.

It was not necessary for that court to specify, in the final part of the judgement, that the rule of speciality was to be applied, ruled the judge, before going on to dismiss his other grounds of appeal. “It is without any hesitation that this Court notes that the appellant’s claim of the first court’s order being null and without effect, to be untrue.”

The judge observed that the requirements listed in the Extradition Act are to be taken as having been satisfied when the requested person voluntarily gave their consent to be extradited.

Meli’s lawyers had also argued that the alleged crimes had been committed in Malta and therefore he should be tried in the Maltese jurisdiction. But this ground of appeal was also refuted as “pointless” by the court, which pointed out that the fact that Malta might have jurisdiction did not mean that the other country could not also have jurisdiction while being in a better position to prosecute the case. 

The judge rejected the appeal and confirmed the sentence in its entirety, ordering him to be returned to the United States, as well as ordering that a copy of the judgement be delivered to the Minister for Justice.

Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Jacob Magri were in court assisting the defendant as the judgement was read out. Meli was also being assisted by lawyers Franco Debono and Arthur Azzopardi.

Prosecutor Sean Xerri de Caro represented the office of the Attorney General.

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