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Man arrested with 54kg of cannabis denied bail

A court has denied a request for bail filed on behalf of a man arrested in connection with the discovery of around 54kg of cannabis in St. Paul’s Bay last June.

48-year-old Santo Arena, a Sicilian residing in St Paul’s Bay had been arraigned on June 24 and was remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to a charge of trafficking and aggravated possession of approximately 54kg of cannabis in an apartment. The drugs were estimated to have a street value of around €880,000.

During Arena’s arraignment, prosecuting police inspector Mark Anthony Mercieca had told the court that the police had been carrying out inspections inside a building in St Paul’s Bay. Officers found the accused inside, together with his family. A search of the property recovered various sizeable packages, containing what the police suspect to be cannabis.

When the compilation of evidence resumed before magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras on Tuesday, the court observed that the asset recovery bureau had filed a note requesting more time to complete the tasks it had been assigned by the court. A court official also exhibited a transcription of the audio-visual statement Arena had released to the police.

Legal Procurator Colin Galea, defence counsel to Arena, informed the court that a bail request had been filed.

Inspector Mercieca told the court that although the defendant had cooperated with the police and released a statement mentioning third parties involved in the drug importation operation and had assisted the investigation, he had no choice but to object to bail in view of Arena’s current status.

Arena had no place of residence or fixed employment, said the inspector, explaining that in the past weeks, prosecution and defence had done their utmost to provide his wife and children with somewhere to live, speaking to Appogg and the Housing Authority.

“The prosecution would be more relaxed [about bail] if he had a job,” Inspector Mercieca said.

Galea explained that before his arrest, Arena used to live in a rented apartment in Bugibba but had been evicted after he stopped paying rent.

“He used to work at a butcher’s shop belonging to the same person who allegedly introduced him to drug trafficking, who is currently on the run. He did not have any work after that,” explained the legal procurator, adding that not only had he not been paid to represent the defendant, but that he was actually out of pocket after assisting the defendant’s family.

The court was informed that the Housing Authority had since found Arena’s family a place to live in Gozo. 

Galea said this meant that the man now effectively had an address, adding that Arena had also been promised a job, although he could not currently afford to pay a bail deposit.

In a decree handed down in chambers later this afternoon, the magistrate refused Arena’s bail request. The court cited his lack of ties to Malta, the serious charges against him and their circumstances as a cause for sufficient concern that justified his continued detention.

Inspector Mark Anthony Mercieca is prosecuting. Legal procurator Colin Galea is assisting the defendant.