Seventeen years after crime, man claims phone taps were illegal

Seventeen years after crime, man claims phone taps were illegal

Charles 'il-Pips' Muscat awaiting trial over drug trafficking

A man, currently awaiting trial over his role in a drug conspiracy involving 19 persons and coordinated by a number of prison inmates, is challenging the constitutional validity of telephone intercepts as evidence in his regard.

Charles Steven Muscat, known as ‘il-Pips’, released from prison in 2011 after serving time over a cocaine-fueled double homicide in Mosta back in 1999, is set to undergo trial over his alleged involvement in the drug-trafficking racket which was busted by the police in 2001.

Mr Muscat was allegedly one of four Corradino inmates, the others being Emanuel Camilleri, known as ‘Leli l-Bully’, Alfred Bugeja, ‘il-Porporina’, and Mario Camilleri, ‘l-Imnieħru’, who had plotted with close acquaintances outside prison walls to import a considerable amount of drugs into Malta.

Confidential information had sparked off a joint operation between the Maltese police forces and their Italian counterparts who finally busted the planned passage of some two kilograms of cocaine, one kilogram of heroin and some 2,000 ecstasy pills from the Netherlands to Sicily and finally to Malta.

Investigators had obtained valuable information through telephone intercepts carried out by the security services on the strength of a warrant issued by the Home Affairs Minister in terms of law.

This information had placed the police on the trail of particular suspects whose surveillance had finally led to the interception of the drug consignment and the arraignment of 19 persons allegedly linked to the plot.

Seventeen years later, Mr Muscat’s lawyers are challenging the constitutional validity of those telephone intercepts which, though issued in terms of the Security Service Act under the hand of the relative Minister, ran counter to the applicant’s fundamental rights.

The law provided that such telephone intercepts were to be conducted ‘under absolute secrecy’ and were not subject to judicial scrutiny even when used as evidence in criminal proceedings.

Among all the EU member states, only Malta and the UK allowed such a situation to persist, the applicant’s lawyers argued, adding that under the UK system necessary safeguards had been introduced which in Malta “have been totally ignored.”

Judicial scrutiny of such police operations is necessary to ensure that the executive powers carrying out the intercepts would also be subject to scrutiny, thereby upholding the principle of ‘equality of arms.’

Moreover, an EU Directive implementing regulations regarding the storage of personal data in electronic communications, has since been declared null and void, thereby rendering the use of any such data in criminal proceedings in violation of the fundamental rights of the accused, the application read.

Citing EU case-law and jurisprudence, the lawyers quoted Weber and Saravia vs Germany where the ECHR pointed out “the risk that a system of secret surveillance for the protection of national security may undermine or even destroy democracy under the cloak of defending it.”

Consequently, Mr Muscat’s lawyers filed the application against the Attorney General, the Commissioner of Police, the Minister of Home Affairs and National Security as well as the Head of Secret Services, calling upon the First Hall, Civil Court in its Constitutional Jurisdiction to declare a beach of the right to a fair hearing and to respect for private and family life.

The court was further requested to declare that the use of such electronic data by the police was illegal and abusive, thereby meriting an effective and opportune remedy by the court.

The application was signed by lawyers Franco Debono, Amadeus Cachia and Alex Scerri Herrera.