MaltaToday | 22 June 2008 | International charity defends legal pills trafficker

NEWS | Sunday, 22 June 2008

International charity defends legal pills trafficker

James Debono

Fair Trials International (FTI), a charity defending the rights of those facing charges in a country other than their own, has taken up the case of British national Steven Marsden who is still awaiting trial two years after being charged with conspiring to import drugs to Malta.
In July 2006 Marsden was arrested on board the catamaran travelling from Sicily when 50,000 pills believed to be ecstasy were found on him. At the time the Police claimed this was their largest ecstasy haul to date.
However, FTI claims the pills did not contain MDMA, the chemical found in ecstasy. “The pills are in fact called mCPP and sold as an ecstasy substitute of sorts, but contain nothing unlawful under Maltese law,” FTI claims.
The international organisation expressed its concern on various aspects of this case. “It is deeply worrying that the Maltese authorities insist on pursuing this case despite Steven Marsden having committed no offence under Maltese law. It seems that they are desperate to secure a conviction for something at any cost.”
MCCP was not illegal in Malta when Marsden was apprehended but the chemical was outlawed in May 2007 through a legal notice.
Metachlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP) is a psychoactive substance that appeared in 2004 on the black market of illicit substances in France and other European countries.
The substance had very limited success among partygoers because it is reputed to induce headaches. Although still legal in most European countries and the USA, the substance was recently banned in Denmark and Belgium.
On June 9 the law courts rejected Marsden’s plea to nullify charges brought against him because the imported pills were not illegal at the time.
The defence argued that since the imported pills were not against the law, there could be no charge of trafficking.
But the court decreed that this was “a convoluted way of reasoning.”
“Even if the accused is correct in stating that the actual importation did not involve prohibited drugs, this does not debar the Attorney General from charging the accused with conspiracy on the basis of other evidence, independently of what was the subject matter of the actual importation,” a judgement handed down by the criminal court last month states.
The court also decreed that the Attorney General was in no way bound to charge the accused of importing and possessing illegal drugs before accusing him of the charge of conspiracy.
FTI claims that initially Marsden was charged with drug trafficking but later the charges were changed to conspiracy, with the prosecution alleging that Marsden had believed the pills to be ecstasy.
But FTI disputes this claim arguing that Marsden had allegedly called the pills “ecstasy” during an interrogation at which the Maltese authorities did not allow him legal representation. Marsden claims to have known that the pills were not ecstasy.
Bail was initially granted in July 2006 but then revoked on application by the Attorney General and has since been repeatedly denied on the grounds that Marsden might try to abscond and that the charges against him are serious.
The international lobby claims that the prosecution has continually postponed court proceedings, thus keeping Steven Marsden in prison for nearly two years while trial dates have been cancelled.
It also claims that the British national who has no previous convictions, has been refused bail on several occasions on the grounds that he would fail to appear in court and would leave Malta. “He is being pressurized into pleading guilty so that a conviction can be secured.”
By the time of going to print the Attorney General had not answered MaltaToday’s questions on the serious claims made by FTI.
FTI whose list of patrons and trustees includes a number of MEPs and former judges, works for fair trials based on international standards of justice.
It is currently defending cases of people facing different charges in 20 different countries, ranging from an Iraqi-born British barber serving jail in Iraq after being beaten and tortured; to a Moroccan sentenced for 15 years after a confession obtained through the use of torture.
MaltaToday is informed that the international charity is offering the British prisoner legal advice through one of its solicitors.

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