Seven #men detained on #child pornography #charges

Seven men have been detained on child pornography charges after an investigation by local police, acting together with Interpol.

Police Inspectors John Spiteri, Joseph Busuttil and Justine Grech arraigned the men, two of whom admitted to the charges, before magistrate Francesco Depasquale this morning, accusing them of the possession and dissemination of child pornography.

The men, all of whom cannot be named on the orders of the court, come from diverse backgrounds, one is a bank employee, another a chef, two students and an interior decorator were among the persons charged.

The investigation was started by a tip-off from Interpol, who had identified several individuals, amongst them the accused, who would frequent child pornography internet sites.

“This is a serious crime, which is fuelled by demand. The children who were harmed needed safeguarding too,” inspector Busuttil told the court. Inspector Spiteri submitted that the police had not yet identified the victims, “some of whom may be Maltese. The accused may know who they are,” he said.

Lawyer Franco Debono, appearing as defence counsel to five of the accused, argued that supply and demand were not relevant to bail. The accused was presumed innocent at this stage, he said, pointing out that the inquiring magistrate has vast powers and that Interpol had already preserved the evidence. “Now that an inquiry has taken place, the evidence has been preserved. Don’t come here and tell us they can change passwords.”

“I don’t want to minimize the seriousness but bail should not be a subtle way of imposing punishment. At the centre of the criminal process is a human, even the accused.” The court denied bail, however.

One of the men accused, a 33 year-old Filipino aromatherapist, is charged with disseminating one particularly disturbing video depicting a baby being raped.

In that case, Inspector Spiteri, a seasoned Vice Squad prosecutor said: “The charges are the same but may I just say that the content found in his possession is some of the most disturbing content I’ve ever seen. It includes sexual activity with newborn babies. He had not only received but transmitted this content. The person who filmed the content had been sentenced to death in the Philippines.”

Amongst the accused was a 20 year- old student from St. Julians. “This was an issue of curiosity, not addiction,” the court was told. Inspector Busuttil explained that this curiosity had led him to everyday seeking out porn every day. “The accused has an acute porn addiction, not just to child porn involving 13-16 year olds.”

Debono asked the court to decide bail on individual merits. He agreed that the man needed help, which would not be served if imprisoned.

“If the inspector is saying he needs help, I agree fully. We can appoint social workers, medical treatment.” He disagreed with detention as this would be counterproductive.

The court, in view of the nature of the case and the fact that evidence is still being collected and that both parties said the accused needs assistance, denied bail, but ordered the accused to be held at Mount Carmel Hospital’s Forensic Unit and ordered the Probation services to give him all the assistance necessary and begin his treatment. The accused sat in the dock, stupefied while his mother, who was present in the courtroom, broke down in sobs.

Yet another of the seven accused today was a 37 year-old painter-decorator from Syria.

He appeared in the dock still wearing his paint-spattered tracksuit.

Lawyer Ludwig Caruana and Janice Borg requested bail for the man, but this was also denied.

One of the seven arraignments included drugs charges. Inspector Spiteri explained that the dynamic of this case was different to the others in that the accused was found in possession of only one picture but in executing the search warrant police had found “a number of suspected illicit substances,” including cannabis and cocaine in circumstances which denoted that it was intended for trafficking. He was accused of sharing the pornographic image of a minor in a Facebook group chat

Bail was objected to due to a “manifest fear” that he would approach witnesses.

During submissions on bail, his lawyers, Veronique Dalli and Dean Hili argued that the alleged incident had happened in 2016 and the evidence was preserved and transmitted to Malta from Europol. They also suggested the man’s Facebook account had been hacked. “In the previous arraignment we had a collector of child porn, here we have a stupid moment, not necessarily his own as he had trouble with Facebook access at the time,” Dalli argued.

On the drugs charges, however, the accused had admitted to them being for his personal use.

The court, in view of the nature of the charges and the fact that witnesses are still to be heard, denied bail.