A Maltese man held under preventive arrest while fighting his extradition to Italy to face charges linked to a 10-tonne shipment of cannabis resin has been granted bail.

Paul Attard, the 43-year-old shipper, had caused some commotion in court two months ago after an habeas corpus hearing before the Magistrates’ Court when his lawyers’ request for his immediate release from arrest was turned down by the court. 

“You’ve destroyed me. It’s a conspiracy,” the frustrated man had yelled just as he was about to be escorted out of the courtroom, sobbing as prison officials and relatives tried to console him. 

Almost two months down the line, Attard’s lawyers filed a fresh application for bail. 

Earlier this week, his legal team made oral submissions before the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti.

Drawing a parallel with a similar case concerning Maltese-Australian national Angelo Spiteri, targeted by an extradition request by the Lithuanian authorities in 2015, Attard’s lawyer, José Herrera argued that Spiteri had been granted bail. 

The maximum jail term faced by Spiteri was 18 years, whereas Attard faced a maximum possible jail term of 12 years. 

Yet, Attard had been under preventive arrest for seven months.

The Attorney General’s main objections to bail pivoted upon the gravity of the offence and the fear of absconding.

While gravity of the offence alone was not enough to deny bail, the fear of absconding was the AG’s “weakest point”, argued Herrera, pointing out that Attard knew that “this was coming for one-and-a-half years”.

That was more than enough time to escape.

As for the AG’s argument that Attard had “the means to abscond”, that was a fortuitous argument which had to be supported by evidence.

Another factor concerned Attard’s various cases pending before the constitutional courts, with hearings scheduled for October and November. 

This was something which fell beyond Attard’s control, pointed out lawyer Arthur Azzopardi, giving a brief overview of the current stage of these separate proceedings.

Moreover, if Attard were to face such drug-related charges in Malta, “would he be detained under preventive arrest for seven months”, argued lawyer Franco Debono, stressing that even those facing the most serious drug charges “rarely” spent such time under arrest. 

And, after all, Attard had landed under arrest not because he breached bail but simply because of “a strange law” whereby when a European Arrest Warrant was greenlighted by the courts, the requested person was kept under arrest pending extradition.

“He’s treated worse than a person who is granted bail,” said Debono, wrapping up the defence’s arguments.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Grixti granted Attard bail against a deposit of €40,000, a personal guarantee of €40,000, signing the bail book three times a week and under a curfew between 11pm and 7am.

The court also ordered Attard not to communicate with any witnesses to be produced by the Italian prosecutors. 

Lawyer Jacob Magri was also defence counsel. AG lawyer George Camilleri prosecuted. 

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