Noel Arrigo emerged a free man from Mount Carmel Hospital’s Forensic Unit yesterday after serving 22 months of a 33-month sentence for accepting a bribe to reduce the jail term of a drug dealer while he was Chief Justice.
He benefitted from a standard reduction in the prison sentence given for good behaviour.
The disgraced Chief Justice has spent his entire term at the forensic unit – a facility meant to house sick inmates and ones trying to overcome a drug habit – ostensibly on account of ill health and depression.
In the days after he was sentenced in 2009, doctors recommended that he should stay temporarily at the facility because he was suffering from depression and other health problems.
However, it stretched to his entire term.
Yesterday, he was picked up at around 7 p.m. by a small group of relatives who made their way to the facility in two SUVs. There was a moment of indecision as they tried to dodge cameras assembled outside the gate.
Eventually, the black 4x4 he was in, made its way slowly through the prying cameras.
Dr Arrigo said nothing and did not display any emotion, but he could be seen clutching rosary beads, as he had done throughout his trial.
On November, 26, 2009, he was sentenced to two years and nine months imprisonment, after a 15-day trial which ended a seven-year legal battle which Dr Arrigo put up against his charges after first being arraigned with co-accused, former judge Patrick Vella, on August 4, 2002.
Both were found guilty of accepting money for reducing a sentence of notorious drug trafficker Mario Camilleri, known as L-Imnieħru, from 16 to 12 years.
The two had been caught through phone taps employed by the Malta Security Service.
Dr Arrigo’s sentence, which included a perpetual general interdiction, was 18 months below the maximum allowed by law at the time the crime (since then the thresholds have been increased).
The sentence had caused an outcry which is likely to be rekindled with his early release for good conduct yesterday. A Facebook group was set up protesting against his term barely a few hours after news broke about his release yesterday.
All those involved in the case, including childhood friend and middleman Anthony Grech Sant, had been jailed by the time Dr Arrigo faced trial. Dr Vella, who had pleaded guilty in March 2007, has been free since July 2008.
He had been given a two-year jail term, when the maximum was four, and he walked out of the Corradino Correctional Facility where he was held in a secure unit after serving 16 months.
After sentence was delivered, Dr Vella’s lawyer read out a statement in court in which he apologised, “without any conditions, to Maltese society in general for his actions” and declared his regret for the damage caused to society.
Dr Arrigo, however, continued to fight his case. He never admitted to the charges, and though he accepted, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that money had changed hands, he argued through his lawyers that his decision had not been influenced by monetary gain.
His defence team mounted the legal argument that Dr Arrigo received the money only after deciding on the case and that therefore, under the Maltese definition of bribery, he could not be found guilty.