Most Maltese know one fact on drug traffickers in prison. The fact that these are, in nearly all cases the small fish in the drug business. Mostly couriers who take huge risk and long prison sentences for little financial profit or drug addicts peddling some drugs to finance their own habit. Most of us know that a kingpin, those getting rich from drug trafficking, rarely ever get caught, let alone convicted.

What most Maltese don’t know is the other fact which is, to put it mildly, much scarier. What many don’t know is that there are people in our prisons who never made a single Euro out of drugs serving a sentence for drug trafficking.

How could this be possible?

Simple. In Malta (contrary to practically all other EU countries and, above all, common sense), sharing is dealing. When two or more people share say, a joint or a stash of heroin they’re not only committing the offence of drug use but also of trafficking – with each other.

This is why, for instance, Daniel Holmes who was never convicted of selling a single milligram of cannabis or that he had the intention to do so, has drug trafficking among his convictions. A charge on which the prosecution had originally asked for life imprisonment.

Daniel Holmes did not cultivate cannabis plants on his own but with a friend. The other guy, called Barry Lee, committed suicide in custody as soon as he came to know what a long term prison sentence he was facing. The plants belonged to both.

When both Daniel Holmes and Barry Lee admitted that they were using the same plants, little did they know that they were admitting to drug trafficking. Daniel Holmes was charged with trafficking with Barry Lee while Barry Lee was charged with trafficking with Daniel Holmes.

The case of Daniel Holmes is one I’m very familiar with. But I’m completely sure there are other people in Maltese prisons serving a sentence on drug trafficking without having ever even considered making money out of drug dealing.

Our laws are so absurd that the following scenario is possible:

A is a drug dealer while B is simply a consumer. A buys the drugs, sells them to B and asks the latter to roll a joint, which he does. They share that joint and get caught red handed smoking it.

A, being a drug dealer thus more street-wise denies everything except for smoking a joint. B, who is greener on these things and gets terrified by the police barking in his face says the truth and admits he actually did roll a joint and give it to A.

With a confession being the most powerful evidence against you and A being street-savvy hiring a good, expensive lawyer, there is the possibility that B goes to jail for drug trafficking while A gets a conditional discharge or a suspended sentence for simple possession.

Killing someone by omission is still a murder. If a nurse is responsible for giving medications to a patient and as a consequence of her failure to do so he dies, that’s murder. If a prison guard fails to ask for medical assistance for an inmate who has shown the need, and as a result of that the latter dies, that’s murder. At best, if there was no intention to kill and the deaths were the result of negligence, that’s manslaughter.

Thus when 63 out of the 72 Sub-Saharan migrants on a rickety boat died of dehydration and starvation while Malta, Italy and NATO were bickering on who had to take responsibility for rescuing them, that is at best manslaughter. There’s no way to go around it. Especially when one considers the fact that a distress signal had been sent and received. Even more so when the surviving migrants reported that a military helicopter hovered over the boat and gave them water and biscuits and indicated it would come back.

Not knowing was definitely not an excuse.

What happened is more than clear. This isn’t the first time the Maltese and Italian authorities left people on the open sea while they were playing who blinks first to impress the public back home (ara kemm ahna taff mal-klandestini!). On other occasions, either someone blinked before people had died, or there happened to be no survivors to recount the story.

This is unacceptable. The blame is simply on “Malta”, “Italy” or “NATO” as noted in the press. It is on the individuals responsible who shrugged off their duties so that they could appear tough.

If the prison guards remain playing Monopoly, forget to feed the inmates and the latter die they will be charged with murder or manslaughter. These 63 human beings have died because our so holy politicians were having fun playing “who blinks first”.

Despite two (non-independent) inquiries which proved no hard evidence of malpractice in the case of Nicholas Azzoppardi, many Maltese people including myself, still have a lot of doubts on whether the man was murdered while in police custody or not.

Lately there was a striking development related to the case. Adrian Lia, the Police Sergeant who escorted Nicholas Azzoppardi before the latter allegedly committed suicide has admitted to stealing hefty amounts of money seized by the police from illegal gambling.

In other words, not only the whole saga of Nicholas Azzoppardi has been fishy from the start, but the person who escorted him exactly before his death is now a confirmed crook.

Many people who had doubts about this what really happened rejoiced to the news that Mr Azzoppardi’s inquiry is to be re-held, for the third time. His family are not so positive, since unless it’s performed independently from the police, it’s practically useless. I don’t blame them for their mistrust.

While many people have been sympathetic to Nicholas Azzoppardi and his family, some believe that it’s no use crying over spilled milk. Nicholas is dead and no inquiry is going to bring him back in this world.

The general reaction to this attitude is that these people are being disrespectful to the Azzoppardi family. They’re right, but there’s more.

People who share this opinion, either have vested interest in the truth not coming out, or happen to be utterly stupid and naïve. This is not just about Nicholas. This is about us.

Though in general I trust Malta’s police force, it’s an undeniable fact that there are bad apples in every institution. If the institution puts its members in a position of power, the risk of having bad apples is higher. To make matters worse, now we even have proof that the person escorting Nicholas was a rotten apple.

The police commissioner can’t be at more than one place at the same time and vouch for all his subordinates. This is why an independent enquiry is needed – he doesn’t know which apples are rotten.

Some day or another someone close to me or even myself can be a Nicholas Azzoppardi. No, it’s not far fetched. These things happen when you least expect them. There are rotten apples in every institution of power all over the world. Some are dealt with effectively, some don’t. And those who don’t (such as in police forces in most South American countries) are all reserved the same fate – the few rotten ones will manage to rot the whole lot.

To assess whether a punishment delivered by the law courts is just or not by reading a newspaper report isn’t very rational. The reason is that the judge would (or at least, should) have judged the case considering a number of variables that do not appear in a short report from a journalist.

 

What can be assessed quite accurately though is the trends in punishment delivery. And what these trends are showing is that Maltese laws are a complete mess.

 

For the sake of simplicity I will focus on two kinds of crime: Drug related (not including theft for drug money) and violence related (including sexual violence and rape).

 

On drugs, Malta’s laws are ridiculously harsh. While I don’t agree with the legalization of hard drugs since this might increase availability, one fact cannot be denied:  No one is forced to buy drugs.

 

I’m not putting into doubt the devastating effect of drugs. I’ve lost close friends myself to them. I’ve seen families being ruined, and otherwise good, law abiding people committing serious crimes.

 

The point is, the war on drugs – the way we’re waging it – has failed, miserably.  Law enforcement, while it should be there, shouldn’t be the main weapon against drugs. Drug addiction is a disease and should be treated as such – with prevention and treatment. On a positive note, we have excellent services in Malta, though I would like more resources pumped into them, rather than into keeping people behind bars.

 

Then, there is the main issue on the failure of drug laws enforcement. The problem is not that sentences are too soft, the problem is corruption. We are jailing, for unreasonably long periods of time people who are nothing more than couriers. That the kingpins are brought to justice is extremely rare, and when they do they are the ones who enjoy the best lawyers and exploit every legal loopholes that can save them from long periods of imprisonment, if any.

 

It’s an open secret that someone is protecting them. Corruption has invaded every institution of power in this country, yet no one wants to do anything about it. Like many other Maltese people, I know – sometimes beyond reasonable doubt – some things that are going on. But what can I do, without the hard evidence?

 

So, to hide all this dirt and appear to be doing something, we become too harsh with the couriers.

 

What about violence?

 

That, we treat with a velvet glove. Beat the shit out of your wife and you’ll get a suspended sentence. Worse still, in the case of domestic violence, some people are granted bail and are sent to live (believe it or not) in the same house with the victim, since it’s the matrimonial home. All this when the main reasons for not granting bail include the risk of tampering with evidence and intimidating the witness!

 

Non-domestic violence is also treated lightly. The message given from the law court seems to be “hurt whoever you want unless you kill him”. Otherwise it will be treated as a murder and that (at least) has to be taken seriously.

 

Sexual abuse and rape are also treated with caution, lest we punish the abusers too much. The sentences given to the priests convicted of abusing a number of children are shameful to say the least.

 

It this same week a foreigner was granted 14 years imprisonment for importing heroin. Another foreigner was jailed for 9 years for beating a man unconscious, raping him and leaving him tied up. (9 years prison isn’t a joke, but relatively speaking it is definitely too lenient).

If this is what we call justice, I’m curious to know what injustice looks like.

Something snaps in his mind. He walks to the nearest school, smiles at the gardener and walks towards a classroom. No one suspects anything that unusual until he pulls out the gun and starts shooting innocent kids and their teachers. Then, he turns to himself.

We do hear about such freaks doing these despicable acts from time to time. There is no way to justify such deeds. Trying to do so would definitely do no justice with the victims. However up to a certain extent it is understandable, it is not completely baffling to find the causes of such behavior. Many times these people feel excluded from society to the extent that they hate it. They live in a world of their own. Their mind is plagued by obsessive thoughts. Or maybe they hear voices telling them to do such atrocities.

Then there is another category of people doing despicable acts. A category of people that no matter how much I try, I could never understand what is going through their minds. Many of these have families and kids, go to church an donate money to charity.

The people I’m talking about are filthy rich, and extremely powerful. I’m not referring to the better off, the next door neighbour who owns expensive cars and a couple of villas. I’m referring to a category of people that are so rich that can take decisions that determine the fate of whole countries, or even the whole world. They may be CEO’s or shareholders who are willing to murder thousands of people for a little more profit.

A few can be found in the armaments industry. While I disagree with the production of most weapons, in conventional business it is just demand and supply. A government or a militia needs your goods and you produce them. It is understandable. The ones I could not understand are those that lobby government (with extremely huge amounts of money) to create wars so that they can sell more weapons. They go out of the perimeters of basic demand and supply. They want governments to take irrational decisions that will end taking up thousands of innocent lives just to sell a product.

Then there are those that invest in poverty – literally. Nestle is one example. How could a rational person come out with such an evil idea: Convince poor mothers with no access to education that their own natural resource (milk) is harmful for their babies. They convince these people who barely have anything to eat that breastfeeding is wrong and give them their own milk for free until their breasts run dry. Then they sell them the milk. If they can’t afford it they will pay with cheap or even slave labour.

Another group invests in poison. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) are severely harmful. The little scientific research that came out in public confirms that. However there is very little research, or if their actually was, most of the results have been hidden from consumers. One reason these products (vegetables in this case) are genetically modified is for the producers to pay less on pesticides. Why spray all that amount to kill the pest when you can grow tomatoes with the poison already installed in each cell? The pest will bite it and die immediately. For the consumer, death takes much longer. Believe it or not, 70% of vegetables available in the U.S markets are genetically modified. Things have gone to such an alarming extremity that even those customers who are aware of their health still buy them because they have no way of knowing which products have GMO’s in them or not. Legislation is designed to outlaw mandatory information to the customer rather than to defend him. To add insult to injury, well-meaning farmers, scientists or political activists who dared criticise GMO’s have been faced with huge lawsuits they can never win. Not because they are wrong, but because they will never be able to afford it. How can Jimmy the framer compete with Monsanto

There are many examples like these, the fruit of the capitalist system. A system that not only angers me, but also leaves me perplexed. What is going on in these people’s brains? Do they sleep at night? Do they switch off their TV sets whenever there’s footage of the pain and horror they had created themselves?

The internal PN squabbles regarding Franco Debono’s abstinence in Parliament mean nothing for me. Neither do the attacks on the government by the opposition. Repeating the same old story ad nauseum. The PN says everything it’s fine, which obviously a lie, and the PL says this government is on the brink of collapse, also a lie.

However, one thing did arouse my interest. Dr Debono wanted to make a point. The point was that backbencers like him should also be given weight from the party. Quite a good point, though I don’t really bother. Yet Dr Debono went on to state his opinion on a law that had been on hold since 2002. The right for a suspect to have legal assistance while being interrogated. This did arouse my interest. Finally, I thought.

Strangely enough, in a couple of weeks the police had their time to do their homework, and the law will come into force on the 10th of next February. What homework? The way this law is drafted changes nothing. Absolutely nothing except the fact it shows that Dr Gonzi gave a little attention to Franco Debono. Hopefully they’ll live happy ever after.

The suspect (emphasise on suspect, the suspect in not only not a criminal proved guilty, but does not even have a charge in court against him) has a right to ask for consultation for half an hour before the interrogation begins. Consultaton before the suspect and his attorney do not even know what evidence will be used against the suspect. The half hour ends, the attorney leaves and the interrogation begins. There is little if any that the attorney can say to his client except that he has the right to remain silent, and that what he says can be used against him. Those same words that the police officer should tell you to make the arrest legitimate.

To add insult to injury, remaining silent on advice of your lawyer can also be used against you. It’s called ‘inference of guilt whatever that means. I can just imagine the prosecutor stating “Your Honour, this man must definitely be guilty since his lips didn’t move for 48 whole hours”

The 70’s and 80’s were horrible times. Ask someone who had been under arrest in those days, irrespective of political color. We have moved a lot forward since since. However it doesn’t mean we should take anything for granted.

If Commissioner Rizzo is reading this he must be fuming with anger. However, what I am saying is not that his administration (I’ve seen him only on the media and he seems a person of real integrity) is corrupt and disrespects human rights. What I would like to tell him is that bad apples are found everywhere, and in places of such importance checks on the potential bad apples should be mandatory. Neither he, nor his assistants can be present everywhere at the same time. It might be true that having an attorney during the whole interrogation, as well as having it videotaped, will make it harder to solve some cases. (Though the videotape can also be used against the attorney if he tries to decieve the police by suggesting rights that the suspect does not have). However if we want to make sure the abuses in 70’s and 80’s will not happen again what we need is not to vote a particular party, but put the necessary checks and balances. (I’ve been a fierce critic of both Dr Sant and Muscat many times, however I do commend them of getting rid of the violent factor in the Labour Party)

I will present two small examples (happened in Malta this last decade) to show how important these checks and balances are. As I will show, these measures will help mainly the innocent and the petty criminal. Most of the time the big guns of crime know their rights more than their attorneys.

An acquaintance of mine, a timid guy with mental health problems was arrested because he was found nearby a place where a robbery had taken place. On him a screwdriver was found, even though it was definitely not used in the robbery. I met this young man on the bus just after he had been released. He was traumatised, crying and shivering. He assured me the police did not beat him, but for a person in his vulnerable state of mind, the shouting as well as the ‘you are guilty’ attitude were too much he could handle.

The other case I’d like to mention, is one I had read about in a local newspaper. A 19 year old girl with a clean police conduct was caught with a single ecstasy pill. Definitely not a crime to be sent to prison for. An admonition maybe, or if one goes at length, a probation order?

Ara l-istampa bil-qies kollu taghha.

However during arrest the girl made a confession – a confession that really shows she was just a naive occational drug user with not real criminal intent. She admitted that she had bought six pills of the drug, gave two to a friend and two others to another friend while keeping two for herself. She also stated that on the occasions she and her two friends take the pills before a party, who ever is available first will buy the drugs for all three of them.

Technically, since she handled the drugs to her friends, even if there was no intent of making profit, that was drug trafficking. In her situation, the law demanded a minimum of three months imprisonment. While giving the sentence, the judge himself admitted this was unfair, but also stated he had no other option.

Does anyone think a drug baron would be so stupid? Or that a thief with a minimum of experience would loiter around the area of the crime he had just committed with a screwdriver in his pocket?

It is these people the law should protect. People that might easily be you, I or a close friend or relative.