An Italian court has acquitted a Maltese businessman who had been extradited to Italy to face drug trafficking charges. The acquittal came after the prosecution failed to prove the fishing vessels where the drugs were found was his.
Paul Attard, 44, was acquitted by the Tribunale di Catania on Tuesday.
Last December, a court of appeal upheld a request to extradite Attard to Italy to face charges of smuggling ten tonnes of hashish onboard a fishing vessel. However, the man was acquitted after the prosecution was unable to prove that he indeed owned the vessel.
Attard had been accused of conspiring with others to traffic the hashish. The drugs were found on board The Quest, owned by Attard’s shipping company. by the Italian authorities during a raid on the high seas.
The man’s lawyers argued that although Attard’s company used the boat, it was not owned by them.
The Quest, a Dutch-flagged vessel, was intercepted in international waters after departing Malta in 2018, for Algeria on a voyage allegedly organised by Maltese drug traffickers.
The vessel changed its route after arriving in front of the Moroccan coast, and started heading towards Alexandria in Egypt. The boat was observed closely by the Guardia di Finanza, who requested permission to the Dutch authorities to board the vessel.
The hashish were found in the vessel’s cold room. A European Arrest Warrant for Attard was eventually issued and the man was arrested in Malta.
A request for his extradition to Italy had been turned down by a Maltese magistrate. A second EAW was issued in September 2021, which was also turned down by a second magistrate.
His extradition was finally given the green light by a third magistrate, following an appeal by the Attorney General. The decision was confirmed on appeal in December 2021. The man’s lawyers had eventually filed two constitutional cases challenging the judgement.
His lawyers have now filed a request for his release from bail conditions, which are still in force in Malta, under the EAW proceedings, since the man was acquitted.
Lawyers Arthur Azzopardi, Franco Debono and Josè Herrera assisted Attard in Malta while lawyer Michele Sbezzi defended the man before the tribunal in Catania.