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File image of an Irish court Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Italian woman cleared of people smuggling after judge rules she acted on ‘humanitarian’ grounds

She claimed she helped bring a pregnant Albanian woman to Ireland to save her life.

AN ITALIAN CITIZEN who claimed she helped bring a pregnant Albanian woman to Ireland to save her life has been cleared of people smuggling after a judge held she acted on “humanitarian” grounds.

Manjola Cuni, 47, an Albanian-born Italian mother of four, pleaded not guilty to assisting unlawful entry into, transit across or presence in the State.

She faced a possible 12-month jail sentence.

Judge Mark O’Connell heard at Dublin District Court that Ms Cuni had travelled to Dublin Airport on 23 April last year on a flight from Spain.

A customs officer in Terminal 1 noticed she had been queuing in the EU lane with another woman, aged 30, who transpired to be using a fake Italian passport and was from Albania.

The court heard that woman fell to the ground when questioned and was brought to a Dublin hospital, but she absconded and went on to seek asylum in the UK.

Gardaí questioned Cuni and found the missing woman’s real Albanian passport and documents in her luggage.

Her phone also showed they had been messaging each other.

Ms Cuni claimed that she had met the single woman a couple of times and had been told she wanted to come to Ireland because she was pregnant.

“I was helping as she is from a village in the mountains, and she will be killed,” Ms Cuni claimed.

The defendant claimed to the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) that she came with her because the younger Albanian woman was not an experienced traveller.

Ms Cuni said that her doctor had advised her to go on a break to relax and deal with stress, and she was intending to travel to England.

She maintained she decided to help the pregnant woman and accompany her to Ireland first.

However, she didn’t have her itinerary or any accommodation booked, and the immigration gardaí put it to her that it did not seem very relaxing.

Ms Cuni also claimed she didn’t know the other woman was using a false passport and believed she had a visa to come to Ireland.

She contended she was confused when the pregnant woman did not go to the non-EU channel and was unaware that her passport was in Ms Cuni’s baggage.

GNIB detective Karen Barker accepted that she did not believe Ms Cuni did it for financial gain and was “not a criminal mastermind”.

Ms Cuni had spent two months in custody on remand before making bail and returned from Italy to face the non-jury District Court hearing.

The charge was under the Criminal Justice (Smuggling of Persons) Act 2021.

In closing the prosecution case, the State submitted that Ms Cuni had told a self-serving story.

Ms Cuni’s barrister, Karl Moran, asked the judge that his client’s account be accepted and that she had not gained financially.

In legal submissions, he argued that the Act allows a defence if the accused could prove on the balance of probabilities that their involvement was “for the purpose of providing humanitarian assistance”.

In his ruling, Judge O’Connell said the accused could have been more forthcoming, but she was evasive and aware that her actions were unlawful.

However, the court had no option but to accept that it was for humanitarian purposes and not for financial gain.

He was also conscious that she had already spent two months in custody and dismissed the case.