Antonio Gatt, 69, of Paola, was targeted by criminal action as one of the parties of an alleged drug ring led by convicted criminal Norman Bezzina, involved in the importation of more than 2.2 kilograms of cocaine from Canada.

Investigations against Mr Bezzina, the suspected mastermind of the conspiracy, Mr Gatt and his brother Laurence had kicked off in 2001 when a parcel containing cocaine was intercepted in the mail.

The men were eventually arrested in May that year after a controlled delivery operation by the Drug Squad.

The accused had been approached by his brother, Lawrence Gatt and Norman Bezzina to collect a packet arriving from Canada and had used family contacts in the Customs Department to collect the parcel, labelled ‘auto parts’.

Mr Gatt had consistently denied any knowledge that the packets had contained drugs and insisted that he neither knew Mr Bezzina nor Simon Xuereb, Mr Bezzina’s right hand man.

On the strength of amendments to the Criminal Code in 2014, whereby the accused could request to be tried before the Magistrates’ Courts instead of facing trial before the Superior Courts, Mr Gatt had been granted this right following an application upheld by Madam Justice Edwina Grima in 2015.

The Judge had observed that the accused’s role in the operation was of a courier having a “minor and limited” role, as it had appeared that he operated under the instructions of his brother Lawrence, without apparently being aware of the scale of the drug running racket.

The case was sent before the Magistrates’ Courts where, on the basis of all evidence produced, Magistrate Neville Camilleri concluded that the prosecution had not proved beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused was in any way involved in some conspiracy with third parties to import drugs.

Indeed the facts and circumstances of the case did not uphold the prosecution’s claim that Antonio Gatt knew of the contents of the packet, the court observed, adding that there was not the slightest shred of evidence that the accused could have had the least suspicion as to the illicit contents of the packet.

All evidence pointed towards the fact that the accused had been betrayed by his brother who had passed away pending proceedings in his regard.

Lawyers Joe Giglio, Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta were defence counsel.