A Maltese man wanted in Italy for drug trafficking charges was released on bail after the court started hearing proceedings for his extradition from scratch. 

John Spiteri, 56, was arrested and arraigned in June on the back of a European Arrest Warrant over suspicions that he was a key player in an expansive Malta-Italy drug operation. 

However, the Magistrates’ Court turned down the extradition request by Italian authorities, citing a lack of information that should have been included in a document known as ‘Form A’. 

The magistrate said that due to this incomplete information, the court could not determine the nature of the offences concerned, whether Spiteri was wanted for an extraditable offence or whether there were bars to his extradition.

The Attorney General subsequently appealed and a judge annulled the decision on the basis that the documentation in question was not required to begin the proceedings. It ordered that Spiteri’s case be tried again. 

Proceedings in front of Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech began on Friday with the court observing a minute of silence in memory of prosecutor Karl Muscat, who was found dead in his Swieqi home on Wednesday. 

Three-hour sitting

In a three-hour sitting, the defence vociferously argued that there was not enough evidence in the documentation presented to the court to decide on whether there are grounds for Spiteri to be extradited.

Furthermore, the defence held that it was “tremendously unjust” that the wanted man had been sitting in a jail cell for 60 days, while administratively, the court had considered proceedings against him as brand new.

Spiteri should be released immediately and with no conditions, it said. 

The defence argued that the European Arrest Warrant issued for Spiteri was not in line with the requirements as set out in European law. There was no evidence that a domestic arrest warrant had ever been issued for Spiteri in Italy, while the certificate for his extradition issued by the office of the Attorney General did not satisfy the intensity as required by law for procedures to continue. 

The defence also requested that the court hear the testimony of lawyer Gianluca Giulini, who represents Spiteri in Italy, on the basis that his information would shed “further light” on Spiteri’s position with respect to the case being brought against him by the Italian authorities. 

After being informed by the court that the Tribunal of Catania was seeking to prosecute him for drug trafficking and conspiracy, Spiteri chose not to surrender voluntarily to the Italian Authorities. 

The defence also contested the legitimacy of the extradition request on the basis that the man described in the European Arrest Warrant was not the same person as the accused. However, the court denied this contestation, ruling that on the basis of probability it was convinced that the wanted John Spiteri and the man brought to court are one and the same. 

€20,000 deposit and a €30,000 guarantee

Spiteri was granted bail against a €20,000 deposit, a €30,000 guarantee and also ordered to sign the bail book at the Żurrieq police station. 

The court gave the defence until August 12 to present a note on their final submissions and the case was deferred to August 24.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Charles Mercieca and Francesca Zarb appeared for Spiteri. 

Ylenia Marie Abela and Mark Galea from the Attorney General's office led the prosecution. 

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