A man facing criminal charges over his alleged involvement in a massive €333,000 jewellery heist has been released from custody after a court ruled that the maximum time he could spend in preventive arrest had expired. 

Judge Edwina Grima ruled that the accused, Albanian national Begtash Muka, 29, has been in prison for 22 months pending the criminal proceedings over the daring armed robbery at Tignè shopping mall outlet Diamonds International on October 5, 2017. 

Muka stands charged with the violent robbery he had allegedly committed with his brother, Daniel Muka, who is also in prison pending separate proceedings in connection with the double murder of Chris Pandolfino and Ivor Maciejowski at their Sliema home in Locker Street on Tuesday 18 August.

Begtash Muka was charged after DNA tests linked him to the haul of jewellery, none of which has been recovered. He is also accused of attempted murder. He was held in preventive custody on January 29, 2019 and had remained there until today. 

Judge Grima heard how a woman, Vincenza Borg, was willing to host Muka and said that according to law, the maximum time that a suspect could spend in preventive custody over this crime was 20 months. 

The Attorney General, however, argued that the maximum time had been suspended for three months when the government issued a legal notice suspending all court times at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Defence counsel Noel Bianco countered that this did not apply when it involved a person’s liberty. The court accepted this argument, adding that the suspension of court time did not apply to the time a person who is still presumed innocent was in preventive custody. Otherwise, there was a risk that the person’s human rights would be trampled upon. 

Judge Grima therefore upheld the request for bail, against a €10,000 deposit and a €30,000 personal guarantee. Other bail conditions included appearing for every court case as requested by the prosecution, that he does not leave Malta or speaks to the witnesses in this case and that he signs the bail book twice daily, between 8 and 11am and again between 4pm and 8pm. He must also be home between 9pm and 7am the following morning. 

Begtash Muka had been on the police wanted list since the armed robbery and was only arrested by chance in November 2018 when he was spotted by soldiers as he tried to scale a fence to enter Safi Barracks. He was allegedly carrying a weapon at the time and pointed it at the officers before being wrestled to the ground.

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