Three men charged with smuggling some 870,000 contraband cigarettes have been granted bail.

James Azzopardi and James Spiteri both from Qormi, and Redeemer Camilleri from Marsa, stand accused of the importation and possession of smuggled contraband cigarettes, as well as tax and duty evasion.

Mr Azzopardi is separately accused of possessing a non-registered boat and of breaching bail conditions placed upon him in July.

Inspector Mark A. Mercieca from the Drug Squad testified about the events leading up to the arrests on November 8 when officers, acting on a tip-off, embarked upon a surveillance operation, targeting a boat which Mr Azzopardi kept at a private compound at Hal Farruġ.

On November 7, the surveillance team watched as the boat was towed to Msida where it was lowered into the sea and set sail, soon returning to moor at Gżira.

At midnight, the boat once again sailed out with Mr Azzopardi and Mr Camilleri on board, bound for the Fekruna area.

At around 2am, a Peugeot Partner van left Gżira, and was spotted at Fekruna, about half an hour later, parked close to the boat. Mr Azzopardi and Mr Camilleri were seen on board, while Mr Spiteri stood nearby.

Boxes were being unloaded from the boat onto the van, Inspector Mercieca explained.

A warning shot, fired by the police, prompted Mr Azzopardi to jump into the sea. He was, however, soon arrested by an officer who followed him into the water. The other two suspects were likewise arrested.

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A search of the boat led to the discovery of the cigarettes, packed in boxes labeled ‘Business Royals’, which were packed ceiling-high inside the front cabin and also on the outer deck, the court was told.

Three similar boxes were found inside the van. All the cargo was duly photographed by the scene of crime officers who were called on site, together with Customs officials.

Meanwhile, as proceedings continue, the court, presided over by magistrate Ian Farrugia, upheld a request for bail against a deposit of €5,000 and a personal guarantee of €5,000 in respect of Mr Camilleri and Mr Spiteri.

Mr Azzopardi was also granted bail against a deposit of €15,000 and a personal guarantee of €5,000. All three were ordered to sign the bail book three times a week and to abide by a curfew.

The case continues.

Inspector Rennie Stivala is prosecuting. Lawyer Michael Sciriha is counsel to Mr Azzopardi, Franco Debono is assisting Mr Camilleri while Joseph Giglio is assisting Mr Spiteri.