Tista’ taqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti hawn.
On 29 June 2014, ship captain Mario Cardona attempted to smuggle over three million cigarettes to Malta from Libya. Their street value was close to €1 million. He was caught red-handed by customs officials.
Unbelievably on 20 May 2022, Cardona was acquitted of all charges of smuggling and concealing contraband cigarettes.
The bizarrely ridiculous reason for his acquittal was that the prosecution failed to show the cigarettes to the court. The magistrate noted that “no evidence had been exhibited to show that the objects around which the case centred were in fact cigarettes”.
Cardona simply walked free.
This case is as comical as it is tragic. That a man caught smuggling is completely exonerated, simply because the prosecution hasn’t shown the magistrate at least one of those rolled paper cylinders filled with tobacco called cigarettes, is the stuff of slapstick comedy.
The tragedy is that the smuggling of cigarettes, oil, drugs and human beings by Maltese criminal organisations costs lives. Yet our law enforcement agencies appear unwilling to confront it.
Malta’s failure to tackle smuggling has damaged its badly tarnished reputation even at the United Nations. A UN panel of experts confirmed the involvement of Maltese companies in the smuggling of Libyan resources, violating UN sanctions.
The Security Council was asked to intervene to tackle Maltese smuggling. The Swiss authorities recently launched criminal investigations into smuggled oil held inside Enemed tanks at Ras Hanzir and Has-Saptan. Despite being presented with evidently fraudulent certificates of origin, Maltese customs simply accepted the smuggled oil – all $11 million worth of it. Maltese customs deny breaching UN sanctions, yet the US treasury knew of the falsified certificates and sanctioned four Maltese oil smugglers.
Smuggling introduces dirty money into the Maltese economy. It deprives the state of an important source of income through evasion of relevant taxes and floods the market with cheaper illegal products in competition with legitimate companies.
Daphne Caruana Galizia had been investigating “the involvement of Maltese parties in a fuel-smuggling operation that included Libyan traffickers and Sicilian organised crime” when she was assassinated.
She lamented the disturbing increase in violent feuds in which “diesel smugglers are blown up by bombs in their cars while drug traffickers are shot by hit men”. Little did she know one of those bombs would kill her too. A report entitled “Death in a Smuggler’s paradise” by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), published in 2018 (), highlighted the risks of Malta turning a blind eye to smuggling.
Malta hasn’t learnt. When Cardona docked his ship in Marsa it was loaded with contraband cigarettes. He declared he was only carrying oil, gas and fuel. Customs officials searched the vessel and identified his illegal cargo, and caseloads of it. Instead of cooperating the captain lied.
He first denied all knowledge of the 3.18 million contraband cigarettes. Then he changed his version. He knew about them but was using them as ‘tips’ to reward his crew. The four crew members would take 36 years to burn through 3.18 million cigarettes, even if they smoked 60 cigarettes each per day.
Here was a sea captain clearly caught smuggling contraband items of high value, who concealed his illegal hold and then lied repeatedly to investigators, and who was then acquitted of all charges. Because the prosecution didn’t show the cigarettes to the court.
Instead, the Court fined the Captain a meagre €600, of which only €200 need to be paid to the Director General of Customs immediately – for filling in an ‘administration’ form incorrectly.
This wasn’t the first time persons accused of serious crimes were acquitted because of ridiculous ‘errors’ by the prosecution. Robert Agius, one of the Maksar brothers, arranged to collect two plastic blocks filled with heroin from an Egyptian mule.
The police intercepted the Egyptian, replaced the drug with wooden blocks and arranged a controlled delivery. A car with Robert Agius in the passenger seat, and his brother Adrian in the back, approached the Egyptian who handed Robert the wooden blocks and received the €1000 due for her work. Agius realised and swiftly threw the blocks out of the car window and sped away. The police were waiting and arrested him. When they searched his home they found cocaine and a 0.38mm bullet.
Prime Minister Robert Abela personally confirmed that he represented brothers Robert and Adrian Agius in legal disputes between 2012 and 2016.
When Robert Agius was arraigned in 2012, the Egyptian mule refused to testify. The police failed to analyse the drug to prove it was an illegal substance. And Agius was acquitted of all drug trafficking and drug possession charges.
He was only found guilty of possession of live ammunition and fined €500. It was a missed golden opportunity to incarcerate a person later implicated in the provision of explosives used in the murder and maiming of several Maltese citizens, including journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.
The two Maksar brothers are now charged with involvement in the murder of Caruana Galizia and lawyer Carmel Chircop, shot in the back and chest in cold blood. Had law enforcement done its job, both might still be alive.
The Court has now lambasted the Attorney General expressing “consternation at the intransigence and clear failure of the Attorney General to provide documentation to the State Advocate” in a case concerning the former clients of the prime minister, alleged gang members Adrian and Robert Agius.
The Attorney General simply refused to hand over essential documents. The Judge was not even allowed to see them. He had to resort to ordering the Registrar of the Criminal courts to exhibit those documents.
The behaviour of the Attorney General, the Court declared was “incredible, unbelievable and out of place”. The judge accused the Attorney General of using tactics to “prolong and hinder criminal proceedings”.
Why is the Attorney General hindering criminal proceedings relating to the Maksar brothers? Why are serious criminals continuing to evade justice? When even the Attorney General and the prosecution ‘hinder criminal procedures’, that culture of impunity will only increase – and more deaths will follow.