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Woman cleared of supplying counterfeit cigarettes

Court ruled there was no enough proof

A former factory worker was acquitted over the circulation of counterfeit cigarettes which had ended up in a vending machine of a Sliema supermarket as the court felt there was insufficient proof.

Rita Spiteri, 37, from St Julian’s, was facing criminal action over a string of charges related to around 11,600 ‘Rothmans Blue’ cigarettes on which excise duty had not been paid, as well as the falsification of relative documents.

Investigators on the trail of the suspect merchandise went to conduct a search at the Sliema store where the movements of one young employee only served to further arouse their suspicions. Confronted by the police, this employee admitted that he kept some counterfeit cigarettes at his mother’s Gżira apartment.

Later, one of the supermarket directors confirmed that he had acquired the suspect merchandise from Ms Spiteri, whom he met while selling fruits and vegetables from his van in Paceville.

A search at Ms Spitero’s home yielded some 18 packets of the counterfeit Rothmans Blue brand besides some other loose cigarettes which totalled some 374 in all.

The woman collaborated fully with the police, confessing that she had obtained the goods some years before from a colleague at the Marsa factory where she had been employed. She explained how she had paid 80c per packet, which she then sold to the owner of the Sliema store at 90c, well below the normal retail price of Lm1.15.

The accused’s former work mate had, in turn, told the police how she had received the cigarettes from a relative who, in turn, had bought them from an Arab man of unknown identity.

Criminal action was instituted separately against Ms Spiteri, as well as against her direct supplier and the director of the supermarket who had purchased the cigarettes to supply his vending machine.

When delivering judgment, the court presided over by Magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera observed that the statement released by Ms Spiteri under police interrogation was inadmissible as evidence, since she had not been given the chance to consult a lawyer before registering an admission.

On the basis of all evidence put forward, the court concluded that the prosecution had failed to prove any link between the counterfeit merchandise found in Ms Spiteri’s possession and the cigarettes she had allegedly bought seven years previously from her work mate.

The fact that the supermarket director, allegedly involved in the illegal trade, had not testified in the proceedings against the accused, also made it difficult to prove the criminal link between the two.

The court concluded that the offences as charged had not been sufficiently proved by the prosecution and therefore cleared her of all accusations.

The defence lawyer was Roberto Montalto.

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