Former footballers among many arrested in Maltese fuel smuggling raids
25 Nov 2020

Former footballers Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti have spent the night in prison after police carried out a nationwide anti-smuggling sting operation.

Law enforcement sources confirmed that a number of raids were carried out between Monday and the early hours of Tuesday morning targeting Debono and a number of his associates believed to be involved in an international fuel smuggling ring.

Some 10 people have been arrested in total, including well-known lawyer Arthur Azzopardi and accountant Chris Baldacchino. Sources said the two white-collar professionals are being interrogated on Tuesday in connection with suspected money laundering activity.

Debono and Chetcuti already charged in court

Times of Malta is informed that Debono and Chetcuti, both former professional footballers, were on Monday arraigned and charged with money laundering and smuggling offences. They were denied bail and have spent the night in prison.

Sources said the operation, conducted by the police’s Financial Crime Investigation Department, was deliberately kept under wraps as a number of arrests were still being carried out.

Debono was arrested in Italy back in 2017, along with his business partner Gordon Debono (no relation) and Libyan militia man Fahmi Ben Khalifa.

The three were suspected of forming part of a multi-million euro international fuel smuggling conspiracy with ties to the Italian mafia and Libyan armed groups.

Back in 2018 Times of Malta and The Daphne Project reported how Malta is at the centre of a well-coordinated multimillion fuel smuggling operation, with stolen Libyan fuel traded easily in territorial waters and through established storage facilities inside the Grand Harbour and Birżebbuġa.

The operation, which had started following the 2011 collapse of Libya’s Gaddafi regime, evolved into a large criminal organisation coordinated by Maltese, Libyan and Sicilian businessmen close to the mafia and who were left to carry on with their business despite various reports passed onto the Maltese authorities, including by the United Nations.

Hundreds of Italian financial police files, corporate documents, marine data and UN reports, as well as corroborative interviews, carried by Investigative Report Project Italy (IRPI) and Times of Malta had discovered how the multi-million business is carried out under Maltese authorities’ noses.

Lawyer, accountant being questioned 

Meanwhile, sources said this week’s raid are at least partially linked to a series of intelligence reports which detailed how fuel smugglers had allegedly been laundering the proceeds of their crimes.

Last year, Times of Malta reported how a months-long probe into the now-defunct Satabank had exposed “highly-suspicious” payments between Debono and lawyer Arthur Azzopardi.

By Ivan Martin, Times of Malta, 24 November 2020

Read more at Times of Malta

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