Police Commissioner Defends Decision Not to Arraign Priests under Arrest

By Charlot Zahra
Di-Ve News [Malta]
Downloaded October 22, 2003

"We did everything that we were obliged to do, irrespective of whether they are priests or not" -- John Rizzo

FLORIANA, Malta (di-ve news) -- 20 October 2003 1700 CET -- Police Commissioner John Rizzo said that the police decided not to arraign under arrest the three priests accused with paedophilia because this procedure is only used when a person is caught red handed or if the report is fresh.

He was speaking during a press briefing at the police general headquarters in Floriana on Monday noon.

The three MSSP priests -- Fr Charles Pulis, Fr Godwin Scerri and Bro Joe Bonnett -- are due to appear in front of Magistrate Saviour Demicoli on 28 October 2003.

Mr Rizzo said that until four years ago, the police used to present almost all cases under arrest, but has stopped doing this after two sentences by the European Court of Human Rights against the Maltese government on the matter.

He explained that whenever a person is arraigned under arrest, the police have to justify to the court that arrest.

Mr Rizzo said the police investigations on this case began before it was first revealed in the media.

"We did everything that we were obliged to do, irrespective of whether they are priests or not", he insisted.

Mr Rizzo said that this case could not be classified as fresh or urgent because the alleged victims reported the case 12 years after it happened.

When there were urgent cases, such as the Floriana rape on 29 June, the suspects were arraigned under arrest, he said.

Speaking on the question of illegal immigrants, Mr Rizzo said that this is "the worst season", with the arrival of ten boats since July.

He said that last year, a total of 1,686 illegal immigrants arrived on the Maltese shores on board 21 boats, 17 of which landed between July and December.

Till now, there have been a total of 480 illegal immigrants who landed in Malta, Mr Rizzo said.

The police commissioner said that at present there are 651 persons being detained in closed centres while another 84 are being kept in a new open centre that was constructed in summer at Hal Far.

This enabled the transfer of the illegal immigrants who were being kept at the closed centre at the police headquarters in Floriana to the building that used to house the open centre at Hal Far, Mr Rizzo explained.

He said that the upkeep of the illegal immigrants was causing financial and human resource burdens on the police force.

Mr Rizzo explained that around Lm200,000 were spent to repatriate the illegal immigrants last year, and that around 100 police officers are constantly deployed with them, leading to the closure of various police stations.

He said that this was not a short-term problem as originally envisaged, hence a long-term strategy was needed.

Mr Rizzo confirmed that the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles, asked to see the detention centres for illegal immigrants as well as the police lock-up at the headquarters in Floriana.


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