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Editorial: There are too many holes in our border control

When, a year ago, it emerged that a former gaming consultant was able to leave the island a number of times notwithstanding a European arrest warrant hanging over his head Times of Malta had raised the issue of border control.

“The public,” it had observed, “does not know to what extent Malta’s ports are exposed because of what appears to be an inadequate reporting system within the police force about wanted people, whether Maltese or foreign nationals.”

The removal of the old embarkation card system as Malta had moved closer to EU membership and, subsequently, the introduction of the passport-free Schengen Area provoked a discussion on effective monitoring over who is entering and leaving the country.

The idea to have as little barriers as possible was, of course, positive, aimed at facilitating travel and trade across Europe. However, the lack of checks at borders did raise the spectre of bad apples, such as criminals and terrorists, being able to move with ease from one country to another to escape detection and also capture.

This state of affairs necessitated close and persistent coordination between all relevant authorities – including intelligence sharing – as well as robust security measures in place to still be able to manage and secure borders.

The ‘disappearance’ from Malta of a man defined by a magistrate as “a lethal weapon” ready to open “the gates of hell upon whoever he deemed an inconvenience to be eliminated” makes law-abiding citizens wonder whether something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Jomic Calleja Maatouk, thought to have fled the country by sea, now features on Europe’s list of most wanted fugitives

Such fears are justified when considering that Jomic Calleja Maatouk had failed to sign the bail book for days before it was realised he had gone missing. The police only started looking for him when his partner’s brother and then her grandmother raised the alarm.

The court’s description of him indicates the man should be considered “armed and dangerous”.

At law, he is still presumed innocent even though he was convicted by the magistrates’ court of importing explosives and trying to buy lethal poisons over the dark web. This is because he has appealed from the five-year jail sentence handed down in July.

Added to that the man’s long criminal record and a history of absconding, it boggles the mind how the police and the security service do not appear to have kept a very close eye on him. Similarly, it is unclear why – after he submitted his appeal – the attorney general did not ask for stricter bail conditions.

Calleja Maatouk, thought to have fled the country by sea, now features on Europe’s list of most wanted fugitives.

When, last year, gaming consultant Iosip Galea was arrested in Italy as he was wanted in Germany, it transpired he was able to travel out of Malta with some ease even if he was the subject of two European arrest warrants.

An internal inquiry subsequently found that the German request for the man’s arrest was ignored on three occasions by the head of the police bureau handling such matters. Two officers were declared to have failed in their duties, one of them deeming the inquiry a mere “public relations exercise”.

And, so it seems, judging by the latest case, even if the circumstances are not identical.

This scenario can only bring to the fore the matter of electronic tagging and whether the law providing for a stay of a sentence handed down by a magistrate but not a judge needs urgent revision.

There are evidently too many ‘holes’ in Malta’s border control regime.