Two suspect drug smugglers caught with just under 20kg of cannabis in a sting operation a decade ago walked out of court as free men on Wednesday, after an appeal filed by the prosecution was rejected.
Barman Godfrey Gambin, 44 and Adel Mohammed Babani, 55, had been arrested at Xemxija on the night of the Imnarja public holiday in June 2010, following a controlled operation by the police, acting upon a tip-off by an informer.
Three men had approached the shore in the Fekruna area on board a speedboat. One of them, Nabil Ibrahim Saleh, had hopped off, carrying a haversack and two bags which he handed over to the two accused, who were parked close by.
As the boat sped away, the two accused and Saleh had driven off in two separate vehicles, which a police surveillance team quickly intercepted.
As police approached, the men had flung the two bags out of their car. Inside those bags were 78 blocks of cannabis resin weighing just under 20 kilos.
The suspect mastermind of the operation, Saleh, had been arrested with the other two men but had skipped bail and absconded.
It was only at the opening of the trial by jury of the two co-accused, that the lead investigator had revealed that the arrests had occurred during a controlled delivery.
A controlled delivery is a drug deal staged by police in order to catch a suspect commit a crime.
The defence questioned the legality of such an operation and asked why such an important fact had been kept concealed for six years.
Throughout their trial, the three men had argued they were under the impression that they were to assist an illegal migrant into Malta, not take part in a drug-smuggling operation.
Eventually, Babani was cleared of all criminal liability, whilst Gambin was found guilty of unlicenced cannabis possession and handed a two-year conditional discharge.
The Attorney General had filed an appeal, arguing that there had been a wrong application of the law by the judge presiding over the trial when addressing the jurors over the issue of the controlled delivery.
However, the Court of Criminal Appeal, presided over by Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi, and Mr Justices Joseph Zammit McKeon and Giovanni Grixti, concluded that the judge had been “legally correct and precise in the way she had formulated the issue of the controlled delivery which involved a very difficult matter, both legally and factually.”
Indeed, Judge Edwina Grima’s address presented no “defect” which could have in any way affected the verdict, concluded the Court, thereby turning down the AG’s appeal.
Lawyers Franco Debono and Mario Mifsud were defence counsel.