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Libyan man hides 130 birds in suitcase

Budgerigar (photo: Shanthanu Bhardwaj)A second attempt within a fortnight has been made to smuggle a number of canaries and budgerigars out of Malta. More than 130 birds were packed in 12 empty boxes of cat food. The court heard that the attempt was made by a Libyan who was leaving Malta to return to his country. Shaban Giuma El Ghazik, 27, of Tripoli Libya, admitted to the single charge brought against him which involved animal cruelty when he tried to leave Malta by air carrying the canaries and budgerigars packed in these boxes. The birds were also exported in boxes which are not according to the IATA Convention regarding the transport of animals.

Police Inspector Alex Miruzzi, head of the Administrative Law Enforcement section within the Police Force, told the court he was pushing for a suspended jail term and a fine to send a clear message that this should not be done. He added that sadly such incidents were on the increase. He said there were now two cases a month. Commenting earlier this month on a similar case, International Animal Rescue's Max Farrugia said that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg and that this kind of smuggling has been going on for some time. Canaries, zebras (bird species) and budgerigars are quite popular in Libya and they fetch good prices. It seems that this trade is well organised in Libya and different couriers call in to Malta from time to time. The courier will be given a contact in Malta who will supply him with the birds.

Shaban Giuma El Ghazik did not have a legal advisor and he was aided in Court by legal aid lawyer Mark Busuttil. Mr Busuttil argued that his client did not deserve a suspended jail term because the number of cases taking place should not affect the case of the accused. His client was a first time offender and did not deserve a suspended jail term. His client had bought the birds in good faith but these had been confiscated, which was already a punishment. Moreover, there was no malice intended: his client had not hidden the birds and was not aware that what he was doing was illegal. Inspector Miruzzi insisted that the birds were hidden in the luggage and that the legal advisor's argument did not hold any water.

Magistrate Joseph Apap Bologna handed down a six-month jail term suspended for one year and fined Mr El Ghazik €240.

The Inspector said many of the birds had survived and were being kept at Għammieri, the Government experimental farm complex, before being taken to an aviary at San Anton Garden, for everyone to enjoy in the Presidential Palace gardens known as San Anton gardens at Attard. Thankfully only a small number had died.