A retired customs officer has been perpetually interdicted and sentenced to community service after he pleaded guilty to accepting a box of sugary drinks as a bribe.

Philip Grech, 64, from Zebbug, admitted to having accepted bribes from a Libyan man in return for allowing him access to a restricted area of the airport in 2013.

Prosecuting police Inspector Jonathan Ferris had told magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech in 2016 how, on September 25, 2013, he had been informed that a Libyan person had been observed being granted access by customs officials to a restricted area of the airport housing a luggage conveyor belt.

The man, Jamal Mesdah Basher Al Gazale, was seen on CCTV in the act of taking several boxes from the conveyor belt. He was not challenged by customs officers on duty.

The inspector had explained that the door to the room could not be opened from the outside, but had to be opened from the inside by means of a sensor.

The footage showed that Al Gazale was accompanied by a customs official, who the inspector said had assisted the Libyan in loading 12 boxes on to a trolley. However, although the conveyor belt showed 12, Al Gazale is then seen leaving the customs zone with 11.

Philip Grech had been the customs official on duty that day, the inspector said.

The missing box had been found in Grech’s office, the court was told. The accused had told the police inspector that the sugary drinks tasted awful and were used during the Ramadan fast to supplement calorific intake. He had allegedly told the inspector that he had accepted them as a payment of a courtesy by Al Gazale, for allowing him to access the area.

Despite initially denying the charges, Grech had filed an admission in February 2019.

In her decision, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said she was taking into consideration the nature of the charges, the late admission of the accused and the fact that the crime had occurred in 2013. His criminal record was “not worrying” said the court, adding that it had taken into consideration the circumstances of the case as well as the recommendations by the man’s Probation Officer.

Finding him guilty on his own admission, the court sentenced Mr Grech to 65 hours of community service and perpetual general interdiction, preventing him from holding any public office or employment. He was also ordered to pay €742 in costs.

Inspector Anne Marie Xuereb prosecuted. Lawyer Stefano Filletti was defence counsel.