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Eight persons acquitted over alleged 19-man drug conspiracy

'Insufficient proof to support a conviction'

Eight individuals allegedly involved in a plot to smuggle a substantial amount of drugs into Malta some 17 years ago, were acquitted on the basis of lack of evidence linking them to the conspiracy.

Yvette Muscat, 53, of Iklin, Trudy Testa, 43, of Mqabba, Pierre Camilleri, 36, of St Paul’s Bay, Carmen Armeni, 57, of Mqabba, Sylvana Bugeja, 45, of Għargħur, Juma Said Karfoosh, 51, of Ħamrun, Suzanne Abela, 51, of Sliema and Albert Bugeja, 45, of Gżira had been arraigned in November 2002, in a party of 19 persons all allegedly involved in a drug-trafficking racket coordinated from Corradino where four of the persons charged were at the time serving time behind bars.

These were Emanuel Camilleri, known as ‘Leli l-Bully’, Charles Muscat, ‘Il-Pips’, Alfred Bugeja, ‘il-Porporina’, and Mario Camilleri, ‘l-Imnieħru’, the latter killed alongside his son Mario Jr in a double murder back in 2013.

At a later stage, following a request for a separation of proceedings, these eight coaccused were prosecuted separately over accusations issued in October 2009.

The case dated back to 2001 when the Drugs Squad had been tipped off about a plot, allegedly coordinated by a number of Corradino inmates assisted by their close acquaintances on the outside, for the importation of a considerable amount of drugs into Malta.

A joint operation between the Maltese police forces and their Italian counterparts had unearthed the planned passage of some two kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin and some 2,000 ecstasy pills from the Netherlands to Sicily and finally to Malta.

However, the whole plot was thwarted and the drugs never reached their final destination since Italian police had intervened just in time to stop two Maltese men, Fabio Psaila and Raymond Borg, who had been about to take delivery of the consignment in Catania.

Investigations revealed that Yvette Muscat, wife of Charles Muscat, Trudy Testa, former girlfriend and current wife of Emanuel Camilleri, Pierre Camilleri, son of Mario Camilleri, as well as Albert Bugeja, brother of Alfred Bugeja, had allegedly received instructions from their relatives in jail to effect payments relating to the drug-trafficking.

Carmen Armeni and her sister Sylvana Bugeja had allegedly been tasked to travel to Catania to ferry the drug to Malta, hidden inside a specially-devised compartment in Ms Armeni’s car.

Juma Said Karfoosh, a mechanic, had allegedly been tasked with effecting the necessary alterations to Ms Armeni’s Hyundai Excel prior to the projected trip to Sicily.

Suzanne Abela, a former girlfriend of Emanuel Camilleri, had allegedly been instructed by the man, then behind bars, to travel to Sicily with the money intended for the drug consignment, having followed similar instructions on two earlier trips to the Netherlands where she had allegedly handed over “thousands of Maltese liri” to a Dutch supplier.

Yet, after closely analysing some 30 volumes of documentary evidence the court, presided over by Magistrate Francesco Depasquale, concluded that there was insufficient proof to support a conviction.

In the first place, the court observed that much of the evidence, namely the police statements released by the accused, had to be discarded and declared inadmissible since none of the accused had been assisted by a lawyer at the time.

Pointing directly towards those who had failed to introduce the necessary amendments to our criminal law, which would have saved such statements, the court declared that these were “to shoulder their responsibility.”

Turning to intercepted calls between the accused and their alleged instructors at Corradino, the court declared that although there had been mention of payments to be made, no link whatsoever could be traced between such monies and the alleged drug-trafficking activity.

Moreover, a court-appointed expert examining Ms Armeni’s car had reported no signs of tampering. Not only was there no hidden compartment near the petrol tank, but the tank itself “had not even been removed from its place,” the expert had declared.

On the basis of all evidence, the court acquitted the eight co-accused of all charges.

Lawyers Joe Brincat, Arthur Azzopardi, Kathleen Calleja Grima and Edward Gatt were defence counsel.

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