The owners of a Dingli quarry have been cleared of having distributing fuel that was not in line with legal specifications, with an appeals court finding the evidence against them to have been “lame and inadmissible.”
Gaetano, Manweli, Joseph and Carmelo Abdilla, were prosecuted in 2012 after an inspection by the Malta Resources Authority.
During that inspection, three samples had been lifted from the fuel tank of a supply truck stationed at the quarry. Tests showed that the sulphur content in the diesel was not in conformity with legal specifications.
The quarry owners insisted that they always bought their fuel from “legitimate and identified sources,” namely well-known and licensed vendors, even exhibiting receipts for the purchases.
In 2015, all four directors were found guilty by a Magistrates’ Court and condemned to a €10,000 fine.
On appeal, their lawyers argued that there would be a “gross injustice” if consumers, like the appellants, were to be placed at the mercy of fuel distributors, especially since consumers lacked the technical knowledge and equipment to analyze the fuel content.
Moreover, there were serious doubts about the manner how the samples had been tested.
The Court of Criminal Appeals, presided over by Madam Justice Edwina Grima, observed that the samples had first been tested at a local laboratory tasked by the MRA and there was no evidence to prove their chain of custody.
A year and a half later, another expert was appointed by the court to conduct similar tests, transferring the samples to Pozzallo, then Syracuse and ultimately to a laboratory in Naples. The court observed that in both cases, the samples had been handled by various persons, with no control on the chain of custody.
Moreover, in the latter instance, the foreign scientists were not identified and had not been appointed by the court.
In the light of such considerations, the court declared that the evidence provided by the forensic tests was “lame and inadmissible,” and certainly not sufficient to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, thus clearing the appellants of all criminal liability.
Lawyers David Camilleri and Joseph Gatt assisted the appellants.