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Seven facing child porn charges after Interpol tip-off

Accused include a bank official and two 20-year-olds

Seven men were arraigned in rapid succession on Tuesday and accused of having possessed and distributed child pornography.

The arraignment was made following a successful operation by the vice squad acting on a tip-off by Interpol.

A 45-year old bank official from Żejtun who allegedly loved "to collect all sorts of pornographic material, including child porn" was the first to plead not guilty.

Reacting to a request for bail by the man's defence counsel, the prosecution explained how a court expert was still trying to verify the extent of the pornographic material stored on the man’s computer and possibly other virtual locations, such as iCloud.

“Should he be granted bail, this man might go home and easily cancel all evidence,” inspector Joseph Busuttil argued, explaining how it had been a tip-off by Interpol which had put the local police on the trail of a ring involved in the downloading of pornographic material.

“This is a matter of supply and demand,” Inspector Busuttil continued, pointing out that although the victims were not yet identified, there were persons who were being exploited.

“These are serious charges,” Inspector John Spiteri said, pointing out that among the victims there were possibly Maltese persons.

The arguments were strongly rebutted by lawyer Franco Debono arguing that although in this case there were no civilian witnesses, the prosecution was bringing up issues of "iCloud and what not" stressing further that the presumption of innocence was always to be borne in mind.

Moreover, once a magisterial inquiry was underway, such data should have by now already been preserved, Dr Debono argued.

Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, in view of possible tampering as well as the fact that evidence was still being collected, turned down the request for bail at this stage of the proceedings.

The second arraignment presented a somewhat different scenario. At the centre was a 31-year old chef from Fgura who allegedly ended up on the police radar following the tip-off by Interpol.

Yet, when police officers called at his residence to execute an arrest warrant in relation to child pornography charges, they came across cannabis grass and other psychotropic drugs which were evidently not for his own personal use.

The man was arrested and marched to court where he pleaded not guilty to drug and child-porn related charges.

The prosecution explained that this case did indeed present different dynamics from the previous one since the pornographic content was minimal, pointing out that this man had shared certain indecent images on a group chat, shocking certain members of the group who asked him to keep such material to himself.

“This fact had happened in 2016 and the police only acted now following the tip off by Interpol,” lawyer Veronique Dalli rebutted.

“This is no collector of child porn. It was a moment of stupidity,” Dr Dalli continued, referring to her client in the dock.

As for the drugs found inside the man’s home, the defence lawyer argued that her client used cannabis for recreational purposes.

Having heard submissions by both parties, Magistrate Depasquale turned down a request for bail in view of the gravity of the charges and the fact that civilian witnesses were still to testify.

Another five arraignments followed. The third was a 20-year old man from St Julian’s - he was a student, a question of curiosity rather than addiction, Dr Debono argued.

Inspector Busuttil confirmed that this was so but the man had an acute addiction, needed porn every day, all sorts of porn, child porn and adult porn too. He cooperated, but he needed help to get over his addiction, he said.

It all began out of curiosity, Dr Debono said, adding that his client needed help. He was accompanied in court by his mother, only recently having lost his father. This young man may be assisted by a social worker and may reform himself, the lawyer argued.

However, the court turned down the request for bail, recommending that the youngster be held at the Forensic Unit and be assisted by a probation officer to ensure that he be given all necessary help.

The young man burst into tears as he was being led out, followed by his weeping mother.

Another among the seven to be arraigned was a 33-year old Filipino national working in Malta as an aromatherapist and healer.

Inspector John Spiteri explained that this case involved some of ‘the most disturbing content ever’ since it presented sexual activity with newborns.

The inspector explained that the person who had filmed the footage had allegedly been sentenced to death in the Philippines.

The court, in view of the gravity of the charges as well as the fact that the arrested man had no ties in Malta, meaning that the risk of absconding was real, turned down the request for bail.

A 37-year old plasterer who has allegedly been living in Malta for quite a long time and had a fixed employment on the island, was next to be remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to child porn charges.

His defence lawyer pointed out that the case concerned a video saved on his client’s mobile phone which had allegedly not been deleted.

Since the man’s phone had since passed into police possession, there was no risk of tampering, Dr Ludvic Caruana argued.

However, the prosecution countered that the police had no knowledge of who had sent the video to the Syrian and besides, there existed no treaty agreement between Malta and Syria which could be enforced should the man abscond.

The police wanted to send a strong message to society that one should steer clear of child porn at all costs.

The police force in Malta was finding assistance from Interpol to target those who dared venture into such waters. Everyone should keep away from such illegal material, often sought out of sheer curiosity, they said.

Upholding the prosecution’s arguments, the court once again rejected the request for bail.

The outcome was different in respect of two other men, one 20 and the other 21-years old, arraigned jointly over the sharing of a pornographic video involving a young underaged girl.

The pair had allegedly committed the offence when they too were underage and since then, they had changed their ways, one of them reportedly even joining a Christian fellowship, and had never again committed any wrongdoing, the court was told.

In view of this positive turn, the court observed that it would not adopt a heavy-handed approach so as not to undo the good achieved by the two young men.

“Such acts are serious, giving rise to grave consequences especially for the victims concerned. There have been young girls who committed suicide in similar cases,” the court severely remarked, handing down an 18-month jail term suspended for four years in respect of each of the accused.

Inspectors Joseph Busuttil, John Spiteri and Justine Grech prosecuted.

Lawyers Veronique Dalli and Dean Hili were defence counsel to one of the men arraigned.

Lawyers Ludvic Caruana and Janice Borg assisted another of the men, while lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri assisted the rest of the accused.

 

 

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