Updated with arraignment 8pm
Paceville entrepreneur and social media influencer “Lilu King” has been remanded in custody alongside two other suspects in an organised crime group linked to drug trafficking and money laundering following a months-long police investigation.
Mohamed Ali Ahmed Elmushraty, 31, a Tunisian national with residences at St Julian’s and St Paul’s Bay, was charged with money laundering, involvement in organised crime, breaching two bail decrees and other traffic-related offences.
He was also charged with relapsing.
In three successive arraignments that lasted almost three hours, characterised by heated debates between the defence and the prosecution, the validity of the arrests was strongly contested by the defence who sought to poke holes in the prosecution’s case.
A crucial bone of contention was the fact that while the prosecution claimed that the man was involved in organised crime, leading a life of luxury and splashing cash without paying tax in Malta and was totally “non-existent” with local authorities, the man’s lawyer argued that the case only involved tax evasion.
“On what basis did you arrest him? Was it tax evasion? Where is the organised crime,” lawyer Franco Debono asked.
Suspect featured among circles known for drug trafficking
Prosecuting inspector Mark Anthony Mercieca rebutted that over the past three months, the suspect had featured among circles known for drug trafficking.
During the previous months, the police were surveying a suspected organised crime group involving foreign nationals related to drug trafficking and laundering of funds.
A particular residence at St Julian’s was targeted and police set up a surveillance operation, observing lots of suspicious activity around the place with many people coming and going all day.
One of the three men arraigned on Friday also had a motorcycle, which he used for deliveries.
The police zeroed in and raided the residence on Wednesday at around 5.45pm, finding two of the men, "Lilu King" and Hamza Gorai, inside.
The third, Mohamed M Ali Al Musrati, was found in the back yard, trying to escape to neighbouring properties.
Drugs found at St Julian's residence
Police searched the premises and found two bags of cannabis grass approximately weighing 300 grams, some 10 grams of cocaine and 10 grams of MDMA.
The three suspects were each handed an arrest warrant and a letter of rights that was explained to them in their own language.
Debono insisted on minuting the exact time of all three arrests, arguing that it was rather uncommon for arraignments to take place almost on the strike of the 48-hour time window for the arrest to expire.
One was one minute past that hour, said the lawyer, comparing the time on his watch to the time given on oath by the prosecution.
However, Inspector Mark Anthony Mercieca rebutted that all three accused had been inside the court building at 5.30pm and inside the courtroom 10 minutes later.
The matter was ruled over by the court, although the accused’s lawyer insisted that the prosecution was to bring evidence of the timeliness of the arrests at a future stage.
More discussion broke out when Debono pointed out that although the prosecution claimed that Lilu King was involved in organised crime linked to drug trafficking and money laundering, he was facing no drug-related charge.
The police said that during the raids at the man’s Portomaso apartment and another apartment at St Paul’s Bay, they had come across cash, jewellery, a large amount of costly clothing and other valuables.
Five vehicles, including three luxurious Mercedes models, a BMW and a Range Rover, some with number plates in his nickname but none registered in his name, were also seized.
A life of luxury
His lawyer questioned what the underlying offence was to justify the charge of money laundering.
Although he led a life of luxury, the man paid no tax and was “non-existent with Maltese authorities”.
Bail was strongly objected to because the accused had properties outside Malta and while under a separate bail, he had booked a trip abroad.
The fear of tampering with evidence was real and since investigations were still ongoing, other persons could be arrested and charged in future.
The prosecution also feared that the man could commit further wrongdoing if granted bail.
He had lived in Malta for nine years, had only one conviction that was not drug-related and had an alternative residence with his partner, countered his lawyer.
Saying that investigations were still ongoing was not a valid reason.
The accused could have been granted police bail while investigations continued.
His lawyer argued that in the “worst case scenario” this case was pinned upon alleged tax evasion.
“Where is the organised crime?… The accused has no drug charges and no ongoing drug proceedings,” stressed Debono.
Mohamed M Ali Al Musrati, 37, Libyan, residing at St Julian’s was separately charged with procuring cocaine, producing or selling cannabis resin, possessing the drugs in circumstances denoting that they were not exclusively for personal use, promoting or financing a criminal organisation, actively participating therein and also breaching bail conditions.
Hamza Gorai, 27, born in Morocco and living in St Julian’s was separately charged with possessing cocaine and cannabis in circumstances denoting that the drugs were not exclusively for personal use, unauthorised possession of ecstasy, promoted and financed a criminal organisation actively participating therein.
All three accused pleaded not guilty.
A request for bail was objected to because the men allegedly formed part of an organised crime group and were allegedly involved in illicit activity.
Several civilian witnesses were still to testify, investigations were still ongoing and other persons could possibly be charged in the coming days.
Gorai had no ties in Malta, no money and no job after the restaurant he used to work at closed down.
In fact, he was living in that residence for free because he could not afford his own place, argued the prosecutor.
The accused’s lawyer rebutted that cannabis was now a legal substance in Malta up to a certain amount.
Yet, it was ironic that there were no licenced outlets where to acquire the drug.
Gorai had a fixed address as stated on the charge sheet, a job and also an untainted criminal record.
He had also cooperated with the police.
After hearing submissions, the court, presided over by Magistrate Noel Bartolo, denied bail in respect of all three accused. It also upheld a request for a freezing order.
Alfredo Mangion and Tonjoe Farrugia also prosecuted, assisted by AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Dejan Darmanin.
Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb were also defence counsel. .