Court blames prosecution for failed extradition of alleged Ndrangheta drug trafficker
Prosecution’s failure to present full documentation for a European Arrest Warrant led to the failure of extradition proceedings against a man wanted by Italian authorities in connection with a drug smuggling operation on a large scale in Ndrangheta.
The cocaine and cannabis had been smuggled from Albania and the Italian regions of Puglia and Calabria for eventual sale in Sicily and Malta.
Maltese citizen John Spiteri, 56, from Qrendi, had been investigated following raids by Italian police last year after a four-year investigation into a drug trafficking ring. Some 430 kg of cannabis, cannabis resin and cocaine were reportedly seized by the Italian Guardia di Finanza during the raids which largely targeted individuals from known mafia families.
In December 2021, Italian police had issued a European arrest warrant, as well as a Schengen Information System alert for Spiteri, informing police forces across Europe that he was a wanted man.
Spiteri was arrested in Malta and brought to trial on June 11, where he did not agree to be extradited.
His lawyers had argued that the procedure was void, given the certificate issued by the Attorney General on June 9, which specified that the Italian court “has the function of requesting the issuance of alerts in the Italian Republic”. The defense argued that it did not appear that the AG certified the European Arrest Warrant as required by law.
The prosecution argued that the certificate had indeed been issued under the applicable law relating to an alert under the Schengen Information System.
In a judgment delivered this morning, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech observed that in an extradition hearing, the court must first determine whether the crime for which the subject’s extradition is sought is extraditable. The offense is identified from the European arrest warrant.
The court noted that in his testimony, Prosecuting Inspector Mark Galea said a copy of the European Arrest Warrant, written in Italian, was attached to the SIS alert. But the Extradition Act and other procedural laws state that, to be admissible, the European Arrest Warrant must be drawn up in English or Maltese to be admissible in a Maltese court. This meant that the MA was right to issue the certificate in terms of SIS alert and not EAW, as the latter was in Italian.
“However, during the initial hearing, when the prosecutor presented the certificate with the alert, he failed to also present the additional information that accompanies the alert, the so-called Form A.”
The magistrate explained that “therefore the alert he presented was left devoid of the additional information that accompanies alerts in the Schengen Information System!”
This was part of the requirements established by the European Council in its Framework Decision regulating the second generation Schengen Information System (SIS II) as well as other European guidelines and regulations.
“Therefore, the alert expressed by the prosecutor during the initial hearing can never be considered as a complete act. A report without form A has no value because the Court, before which only the report is certified, is supposed to rely on this report to take decisions… In this case, the Court is faced with an incomplete report which cannot never satisfy [the legal requirements].”
Although the prosecutor presented the EAW in Italian and English as separate documents from the alert, the court stated that the alert could not be considered to have been attached to the English version of the EAW so as to be able to trust it. , and was instead obliged to base its decision on the document that had been certified – the alert.
But in the absence of form A, the alert was incomplete and does not provide the information required by law, the magistrate ruled. “It sheds little or even little light on the relevance of the Court in the exercise it must carry out. It only serves to indicate the details of the extraditant in an immensely dry manner.
To underscore this point, the court pointed to the fact that the alert spoke only of “drug-related offences”, while the EAW dealt with “participation in a criminal organization” and “illicit trafficking in narcotics”. The alert also did not indicate which authority had requested the issuance of the EAW or when, which might have helped the court to obtain moral certainty that the alert and the EAW related to the same incident.
“It was up to the prosecution to ensure that not only the alert but also the relevant Form A was exhibited with the Attorney General’s certificate”
The acts as set out meant the court was forced to base its decision exclusively on the incomplete alert without the information contained in Form A, the magistrate said. This meant that the court could not make the decisions expected of it at an extradition hearing, nor could it determine whether there were any impediments to extradition, as this required that the behavior mentioned in the alert is an extraditable offence.
Under the Extradition Act, the court ordered that Spiteri must remain in custody for the next three working days, during which time the attorney general must either appeal or consent to the man’s release.
The prosecution is expected to file an appeal.
Lawyers Franco Debono, Charles Mercieca and Francesca Zarb represented Spiteri in the proceedings.
Declaration of the Republic
In a statement, Repubblika said State Attorney Victoria Buttigieg should immediately resign and apologize for her incompetence. If she stays in place, she should be removed from leading an institution that supposedly has a duty to fight crime but instead uses it to ensure impunity, the NGO said.
Parliament – with the support of both parties – has the power to impeach her. “We don’t know what additional evidence they need to start moving. Remove it before releasing all the criminals it talks about,” the NGO said.