The courts have dismissed an appeal against the acquittal of businessman Carmel Polidano, who was cleared of criminal charges relating to an incident in which a three-year-old boy was grievously injured by a tiger at Montekristo Estate’s Animal Park in 2015.
The accident in question took place on 28 November 2015, when the young boy suffered facial injuries after being attacked by a tiger which was being taken for a walk – outside of its enclosure and amongst the public – by its handler.
The appeal, which was filed by the Attorney General, had attacked the 2018 judgment clearing Polidano and Michael Mercieca of charges of running an illegal zoo, keeping dangerous animals and criminal negligence. In the same judgment, tiger handler Muhammad Saleem had been found guilty of negligence and conditionally discharged.
The AG had noted that in his statement to the police, Polidano had listed “camels, eagles, tigers, lions and zebras” as being some of the animals he kept at the park for several years. None of these animals could be described as domestic, said the prosecutor. Evidence had showed that the park was open to the public for much more than the 7 days required by law for it to be classified as a ‘zoological establishment.’ The park had also operated for the entirety of 2014 without the required licence, it was argued.
The court of Criminal Appeal began by noting that the statements of all the accused had been taken without a lawyer being present and were therefore inadmissible as evidence.
Madam justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera, presiding, then established that there was no doubt that on the day of the accident the tiger had been taken for a walk in a place accessible to the public. She also observed that the park operator had been sent two warning letters and a criminal complaint by the authorities in 2014 and 2015.
But after inspecting the acts of the case, the judge said that there was no evidence showing that Carmel Polidano was responsible for the tiger or the park. This was because the prosecution had relied on declarations made by Polidano, which were later declared inadmissible.
Neither could the court say that it had been proven that Polidano had approved the handlers’ decision to take the tiger out for a stroll amongst the public, as the link between Polidano and the establishment where the incident occurred had not been proven, it said.
The judge rejected the appeal and confirmed the judgment of the first court.
Lawyers Mark Vassallo, Edward Gatt and Jean Paul Sammut appeared for the accused men.
Original article found on The Malta Independent