A Maltese man fighting extradition to Italy over drug trafficking charges is claiming that he has landed in “a state of illegality” and is calling for immediate release from his “indefinite” state of arrest.

Paul Attard, a 43-year old shipper, was arrested in Malta twice over the past four years, on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant issued by the Italian authorities.

He is wanted there to face trial over his alleged involvement in the trafficking of ten tonnes of hashish found on a fishing vessel.

The incident dates to 2018 when the vessel was intercepted by Italian authorities in international waters between Malta and Algeria, carrying the load of drugs that was allegedly discovered inside the vessel’s cold room.

The following year, a request for extradition was rejected by the Magistrates’ Courts.

A fresh EAW was issued in September 2021 and was once again turned down by another magistrate presiding over the proceedings.

However, following an appeal by the Attorney General the case was sent back before a different magistrate who greenlighted Attard’s extradition to Italy.

That decision was confirmed on appeal in December 2021, prompting Attard’s lawyers to institute two separate constitutional cases challenging the judgment on two grounds.

First of all, they challenged the issue of territorial jurisdiction and secondly, they claimed that the judge deciding the appeal had misquoted a statement by the prosecution and rejected Attard’s claims without giving the reasoning.

While those constitutional proceedings continued, Attard’s extradition was put on hold.

Kept under arrest

But meanwhile, the man remained under arrest despite the law stating that such arrest could not extend beyond two months from the date of the extradition order.

On April 13 Attard’s lawyers filed an application before the First Hall, Civil Court in its constitutional jurisdiction, calling for the applicant’s release from arrest. 

However, 12 days down the line, that court has still not taken note of the request nor provided any measure to that effect.

This means that Attard has now found himself in a situation where the two month time-limit for arrest pending extradition, cannot be abided by.

Not only are constitutional proceedings still pending but the appeal judgment cannot be enforced since Italian authorities in Catania did not abide by a vital principle under extradition laws. 

In terms of the rule of speciality, a person wanted under a foreign jurisdiction must only face trial only for the offences mentioned in the EAW, and in this case, the relative authorities in Catania failed to abide by this rule, court was told.

In light of such circumstances, Attard now found himself in a “state of illegality”, facing arrest for an indefinite term yet lacking an effective remedy to challenge such arrest, the lawyers added.

His lawyers filed an habeas corpus application before the Magistrates’ Courts calling for his immediate release from arrest. 

Lawyers Jose’ Herrera, Arthur Azzopardi and Franco Debono signed the application. 

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