AFM soldiers accused of migrant's murder - government launches inquiry
Two soldiers were this evening accused of the the murder of a migrant in a Detention Service van early yesterday, while a third was accused of perverting the course of justice.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Prime Minister this evening announced an inquiry into detention services following the migrant's death.
Sergeant Mark Anthony Dimech 44 of Gzira and Gunner Clive Cuschieri, 29 of Paola were accused of the murder of Abdalla Mohammed, 32, seriously injuring him and committing a crime they were duty bound to prevent.
Lance Corporal Gordon Pickard, 35 of Zabbar was accused of perverting the course of justice and committing a crime he was duty bound to prevent.
All pleaded not guilty.
In submissions for bail, Dr Franco Debono representing Cuschieri (with Rachel and Sarah Tua) said the charge of voluntary homicide was excessive and in the worst case scenario it should be involuntary homicide. He said this was not a case of one extreme to another since in the past there were more serious cases where officers shot at migrants and were not arraigned. He said one had to keep in mind the character of all involved. The accused were soldiers who had gone out to work. They were family men while the accused had escaped for three years and had clashes with other people in detention.
Dr Edward Gatt for Dimech said this was a case where the police had to satisfy the 'thirst of the media'.
Dr Mark Busuttil, representing Pickard, said his client just happened to the van when this case happened.
Prosecutor Inspector Keith Arnoud said the police were not anyone's puppets and did not act according to what was in the media. The police had spent 17 hours investigating the case and had not looked at what the media said. Five persons were investigated but only three had been arraigned, according to available evidence.
All were remanded in custody.
The arraignment was made in a hall full of relatives, many of them weepeing. The two soldiers accused of murder also burst into tears.
Earlier in the afternoon, the UNHCR called for a review of Malta's detention policy.
In the morning Opposition leader Joseph Muscat called for an inquiry into the management of migrants and said responsibility must be borne for what happened in the early hours of yesterday.
In its statement this evening, the Office of the Prime Minister said that following the death of Abdalla Mohammed, 32, it had prudently not commented until investigations were made.
Now that three persons had been arraigned, it wanted to declare that:
While one should respect the principle that all were innocent until proven guilty, the government reiterated its belief and commitment to the respect for the dignity and fundamental rights of all people, which rights had to be safeguarded at all times.
The OPM expressed concern about racist elements in the country and said these did not represent the country's values.
In announcing the inquiry, the Office said the inquiry would look into the circumstances of this case in the context also of recommendations in previous inquiries.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi expressed his sorrow over what had happened.
A person who had come to Malta seeking a better life had met a tragic death.
"Let us all renew out commitment to the values of life in all circumstances, even when the choices are not easy," Dr Gonzi said.
The Labour Party welcomed the holding of the inquiry and said it should be transparent and cover every aspect of the management of closed and open migrants' centres.