Two former footballers, currently pleading not guilty to money laundering charges, were in court on Monday for the first hearing of the compilation of evidence which, however, proceeded behind closed doors.
Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti have been under preventive custody since their arrest last month, in a police anti-smuggling operation that unfolded during the night of November 23.
Police sources later confirmed that raids were carried out targeting the two men and a number of their associates.
A court ban on publication of both accused’s names, issued while the enforcement operation was unfolding, has since been revoked.
However, when the compilation proceedings kicked off on Monday afternoon, the prosecution requested the court to authorise the hearing to continue behind closed doors, so as not to prejudice ongoing investigations.
At the start of the hearing, defence lawyer Giannella DeMarco requested presiding magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech to abstain from hearing the case, arguing that this investigation appeared to be linked to a fuel smuggling case in Italy five years ago, when the magistrate held the office of deputy Attorney General.
In her former role, magistrate Frendo Dimech headed the international affairs unit.
However, that argument was rebutted by the prosecution arguing that this investigation was not related to the 2015 Italian case.
The file within the Attorney General’s office, recording the assistance requested by Italian authorities from their Maltese counterparts, was, in fact, dated 2016, namely one year after the then-deputy AG had been appointed to the judiciary.
While turning down the defence’s request for recusal, the court, nonetheless, asked the AG to present, at the next sitting, all necessary documents confirming the date of such request for assistance exchanged between Italian and Maltese authorities.
The hearing then continued behind closed doors.
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