A man accused of drug trafficking dating back to 2012 has been cleared of all charges after a court found there was nothing to prove he had conspired to do so.
Robert Agius, 36, had been arraigned in May 2012, pleading not guilty to involvement in a heroin-trafficking conspiracy, simple possession of cocaine and keeping an unlicensed firearm or ammunition, as well as recidivism.
Agius had been identified as a suspect after police caught a woman who had landed in Malta from Cairo, Egypt with two plastic blocks filled with heroin.
The woman told police that she had agreed to smuggle the drug into Malta for Agius, against an upfront payment of €500 and a further €1,000 upon consignment.
She agreed to take part in a controlled delivery, set up by the Drug Squad. The drug was replaced with decoy wooden slabs.
The woman waited at a fixed place and time until a Peugeot drove up to her. A third party was driving the car, with Agius in the passenger seat and the driver’s brother at the back.
As the car drove up, the woman pushed a paper bag in through the passenger window, taking cash in return.
The car drove on, but it was soon stopped by a white police van.
The accused was arrested and his home was subsequently searched. There, police found a plastic nodule bearing a suspicious substance believed to be cocaine and a live bullet from a .38 revolver.
Once proceedings against Agius began, the woman - a crucial witness in the case -persistently refused to testify, since criminal action was still pending in her regard.
As proceedings dragged on, Agius’ lawyers filed a constitutional application, arguing that their client’s right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time had been breached.
Two years ago, the First Hall, Civil Court, upheld that claim and said that prosecutors’ insistence on summoning the “indispensable” woman as a witness, despite her desire to exercise her right not to testify while her appeal had yet to be heard, was “unacceptable”.
More than six years had passed since Agius was arraigned, the court noted.
Following that judgment, the criminal case resumed.
When delivering judgment on Wednesday, the court, presided over by magistrate Neville Camilleri, observed that the woman had never testified.
Turning to the evidence at hand, the court observed that the driver of the vehicle had testified how the woman had pushed a bag through the open window and how his passenger, Agius, had promptly flung it back out on the street.
A foreign national who had lived in Malta for 25 years before returning to Egypt and setting up a commission agency there, had also testified, explaining how he had once met Agius and his business partner in Egypt.
The two Maltese men had commissioned him to buy olives, oil and other foodstuffs for their hotels. But that was all, the witness had said.
On the basis of all evidence put forward, including footage of the controlled delivery, the court concluded that the drug-trafficking conspiracy had not been proved.
In a lengthy judgment, citing case law, the court declared that the prosecution had not sufficiently proved the accused’s intention to sell or traffic drugs, nor his alleged agreement with other co-conspirators nor of the plan of action necessary to complete the crime.
As for the cocaine possession charge, the court observed that the suspect substance had never been scientifically analyzed to prove whether it was an illegal drug.
All that was proved was the possession of a live bullet at the accused’s home, on the basis of which the man was declared guilty and ordered to pay a €500 fine.
Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Alfred Abela and Rene’ Darmanin were defence counsel.