19/05/2024 04:15:00

Sicilian man sentenced in Italy for organised crime, cocaine trafficking, arrested in Malta

 A Sicilian man, wanted by the Italian authorities in connection with an investigation into organised crime and cocaine trafficking has appeared in court following his arrest in Malta.

Gianluca Caruso, 32, had been living in Malta for seven years before his arrest and arraignment in court, Magistrate Joseph Gatt was told on Friday.

The slightly-built defendant was accompanied in court by his partner, with whom, the court was told, he is expecting a child.

Inspector Roderick Spiteri explained that the police had arrested Caruso at his workplace on Thursday afternoon, on the strength of a European Arrest Warrant issued in his name by a court in Catania, Sicily.

Exhibiting copies of the relevant documentation to the court, the inspector said that the Maltese Police Force's forensics department had confirmed that the man's fingerprints matched those of the requested person, which had been sent with the EAW.

In 2020, Caruso had been convicted in absentia of offences relating to trafficking cocaine and marijuana, as well as forming part of a criminal organisation, for which he was sentenced to imprisonment for seven years and two months by the Catania Court of Appeal.

After deducting the time spent in pre-trial custody, Caruso would be required to serve the remaining 6 years and 9 months in prison if returned to Sicily.

According to Italian media reports, Caruso had turned himself in five years ago at the Vincenzo Bellini airport in Catania, during a law enforcement operation dubbed "Tricolore" which had dismantled two drug dealing centres in the San Berillo Nuovo district of Catania and led to some 40 arrests on suspicion of drug trafficking and dealing, charges which were deemed aggravated because they had been aimed at facilitating the Cappello-Bonaccorsi family.

He is understood to have subsequently travelled to Malta while on bail and is now requested by the Italian authorities in order to serve his sentence.

Inspector Spiteri told the court that he had arrested Caruso after the police received an alert through the pan-European Schengen Information System (SIS) alert, a system which informs national police forces across the EU when a wanted person is believed to be in their country.

The SIS alert had been sent after an European Arrest Warrant was issued requesting the man's return to Sicily to serve a prison sentence.

Defence lawyer Charles Mercieca argued that at the time of Caruso's arrest, the police did not have a copy of the sentence upon which the EAW had been based which, he said, rendered the arrest illegal.

The EAW stated that Caruso was wanted to serve a prison sentence, replied the inspector, adding that the police had been in constant communication with their overseas counterparts before arresting the man.

Mercieca argued that Caruso's sentence was not final, as the police did not have copies of a judgement conclusively confirming it, that would have been issued by the Italian court of third instance - the Court of Cassation.

Lawyer Jacob Magri added that without seeing the Cassation judgement, the defence could now know what Caruso was being requested for.

Mercieca cited European case law, which established that a national arrest warrant or evidence of the sentence had to be exhibited in EAW cases.

The applicable Framework Decision laid down criteria for enforceability of EAWs: evidence of a judgement or enforceable judicial decision, said the lawyer. "Decisions about the execution of the European arrest warrant must be subject to sufficient controls, which means that a judicial authority of the Member State where the requested person has been arrested will have to take the decision on his or her surrender."

Mercieca argued that from the inspector's testimony, it emerged that the EAW and the arrest of Caruso were carried out on the basis of a judgement from the Italian courts and a certificate issued by the Attorney General.

"Nowhere does any enforceable sentence emerge from the documentation exhibited by the police and therefore one of the elements upon which the arrest was based is absent," argued the lawyer.

Evidence of an enforceable judgement, an arrest warrant in the requesting country or any other enforceable judicial decision having the same effect is a requisite for an arrest, said the lawyers. In order to be executable an EAW requires an enforceable judgement imposing the punishment of imprisonment.

Inspector Spiteri argued that the arrest had been made on the strength of a Schengen Information System alert, together with the EAW and a certificate issued by the Attorney General. The judgement that Caruso was being requested to return and serve could be requested by the magistrate as supplementary information, he said.

After retiring to chambers to deliberate, the magistrate abstained from deciding about the validity of the arrest, as this would entail an examination of the merits of the case, which was not the function of his court yesterday, adding that the defence could still raise its arguments before the court that would be deciding the case on the merits, by asking it to request any supplementary information necessary.

The court then proceeded to ask Caruso whether he confirmed the details stated in the EAW were correct, which the man in the dock confirmed. He did not consent to his return to Sicily.

The court expressed its concern at the absence of a representative from the AG in these proceedings, while stressing that this in no way was to be interpreted as a criticism of inspector Spiteri.

Caruso was remanded in custody until the case continued before another magistrate in the coming days.

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