Updated 7.40pm, adds bail decision
A defence lawyer for social media personality Lilu King applied for bail for his client, arguing that the case against him is a "fishing expedition" and that "showing off on social media is not a crime".
The request was denied.
The Paceville entrepeneur has been held in preventative custody for the past three months after being charged with money laundering.
Over the last few days, a TikTok account in his name has shown apparently old videos of him partying and flaunting luxury cars.
His lawyer Franco Debono insisted before Mr Justice Aaron Bugeja that there were no legal grounds for his client to continue being held in preventive custody as the prosecution had not brought any witnesses to prove its case.
He was making submissions on the bail application filed by the Libyan boxer Mohamed Elmushraty, better known as 'Lilu King' who has been held in preventive custody ever since his arrest in May, on charges of money laundering, tax evasion and participation in organised crime.
Police witnesses testified that Elmushraty was also wanted in Libya to face murder charges. Authorities in Tripoli had contacted police in Malta to flag the suspect’s wanted status, they said.
'Struggling to produce evidence'
Debono told the court that the prosecution was “struggling” to produce evidence "that it did not have", saying that in other, more serious, cases police bail had been granted during investigations before the suspect was arraigned.
“Three months is way too much to keep a person under arrest with the excuse of ongoing investigations,” said the lawyer, arguing that during the last sitting of the compilation of evidence, “we only heard people give testimony that is exculpatory for the accused.”
Debono described the case against Elmushraty as a “fishing expedition.” He argued that the prosecution was struggling because it did not have evidence to support the charges and much of the evidence it had exhibited was “not even admissible.”
He asked the prosecution to produce the evidence of organised crime and said that despite a surveillance operation, police had not filed charges relating to drug possession or conspiracy.
"Neither does he have convictions relating to drugs. But in spite of this, they are still straining themselves to bring drugs into the equation.”
Debono referred to a sitting held on August 22 in which a witness testified that Elmushraty had nothing to do with a Mercedes G Wagon.
He asked if it was acceptable to still have unnamed witnesses, who hadn’t even been found, in an advanced stage of his client’s prosecution.
Additionally, the charge of organised crime still had to be proven, said the lawyer. “You need evidence. Are we saying that we now arraign first and investigate later?” Any lack of investigative resources was “not the fault or the problem of the defendant,” he added.
Prosecuting lawyer Antoine Agius Bonnici, from the Office of the Attorney General, objected to bail, as the complex investigation was still ongoing, a number of witnesses were yet to testify and due to the fear of the defendant absconding.
“Other suspects have been arrested and charged, but there are others who have not.” The other suspects, identified in court only by codenames Alpha 1, Alpha 2 and Alpha 3 had been mentioned during the compilation of evidence.
A police constable who had been part of the team carrying out surveillance on Elmushraty and another officer had both mentioned these suspects in their testimonies, said Agius Bonnici, adding that one of the suspects in question had recently been arrested and had provided police with further information.
“Organised crime is not an easy crime to prove. There are layers of people giving orders, to keep the identity of the person at the top hidden. If bail is granted, there is a risk of him tampering with evidence,” the prosecutor said.
He pointed out that witnesses had already been approached in an attempt to induce them to commit perjury and criminal proceedings relating to this are currently underway.
He denied the assertion that no evidence had been exhibited. He said authorities in Libya were currently working with their Maltese counterparts to share evidence about the organised crime group. The prosecutor cited European Court judgments which found no breach of a suspect’s rights after a year of being detained under preventive arrest. “Here we only have three months.”
Elmushraty had strong contacts overseas and had also been granted bail before in other criminal proceedings but had breached his bail conditions and travelled abroad regardless, he added, saying that his trustworthiness was an issue.
“Tanto fumo e poco arrosto (lots of smoke but no fire),” Debono retorted. “As far as I know, showing off on social media is not a crime.” He was clearly referring to photos of his client partying making the rounds on social media even though he was still being held in jail.
Debono also announced that he will be requesting the recusal of magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, who is presiding the compilation of evidence against Elmushraty “at the first opportunity”.
The lawyer said the magistrate had “made an observation which was completely incorrect, by saying that the Hawala money transfer system was illegal”.
Hawala is an informal value transfer system, popular in the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent, which is based on the performance and honour of a huge network of money brokers, called hawaladars. The system operates outside of, or parallel to, traditional banking, financial channels and remittance systems.
“It was an observation, not only untimely and premature, but also incorrect. It is not true that Hawala is illegal,” Debono said.
Replying to the defence’s submissions, Agius Bonnici pointed out that Elmushraty does not currently hold a valid identification document and that his refugee status had been revoked, although an application for refugee status was pending.
But Debono said this was untrue. “He had refugee status since 2018, because he would be tortured if he returned to Libya. The only thing that happened is that administratively, he did not go to renew it.”
Inspectors Tonjoe Farrugia, Mark Anthony Mercieca and Alfredo Mangion are prosecuting together with AG lawyers Agius Bonnici and Dejan Darmanin. Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb are also defence counsel.