Lawyers for oil trader Darren Debono have called out the prosecution for not disclosing that their client has never been listed under UN or EU sanctions.
Debono was in court today to answer to money laundering charges the police filed against him and Jeffrey Chetcuti, his friend and former Malta international football team-mate.
His lawyers Stephen Tonna Lowell, Giannella Demarco and Gianluca Caruana Curran got to cross-examine Neville Aquilina, chairman of the Sanctions Monitoring Board.
They asked Aquilina whether Debono was ever listed under UN or EU sanctions and he responded in the negative. He also confirmed that a letter had been sent to Debono which confirmed this state of affairs.
This angered Debono’s defence team, who accused the prosecution of being selective in the evidence they presented to the court and not disclosing evidence that could help their client.
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said it would be one thing if the prosecution knew about this evidence but failed to present it, and another if it had no idea about it in the first place.
Recently, Aquilina testified in a separate money laundering case against Debono’s brother Pier-Paul Debono, who used to be director of Darren Debono’s company World Water Fisheries.
Here, he presented reports by a UN panel of experts which flagged the involvement of Maltese companies in the smuggling of Libyan resources, in violation of UN sanctions.
One of these reports, from 2016, warned that “significant quantities” of fuel produced at the Zawiya Refinery in Zuwarah, Libya, are being sold to “smugglers”.
Ships would then travel to Libya from Malta, turn off their Automated Identification System and load their holds with fuel. After they are loaded, they would return to Malta but remain outside Maltese territorial waters, where they would discharge fuel onto other vessels which would then carry it to the Maltese coast.
The report said that several families run the fuel smuggling business in Zuwarah, all of whom have also been involved in other types of smuggling, including people, cigarettes or drugs.
Fahmi Ben Khalifa, the Libyan businessman who sold oil to Debono, was described as a man who “controls a militia and is a shareholder in a Maltese company, ADJ Trading Limited”.
Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services Limited, a Libyan company he chaired, had requested a licence to import fuel into Malta from Libya but this was turned down by the Maltese authorities due to the situation in Libya.
In 2017, Debono was arrested by Italian police on charges of smuggling fuel from Ben Khalifa to an Italian merchant, a case which is still ongoing.
Debono has never been charged with fuel smuggling in Malta but he was charged with money laundering in November 2020.
Earlier this year, Lovin Malta published a letter the Maltese Sanctions Monitoring Board had sent Debono in July 2016 which confirmed that neither he, nor Ben Khalifa, nor their companies and ships were listed under UN or EU sanctions.
Debono has said he is confident that his oil trading business was legitimate, above board, and carried out with the full knowledge and consent of various government entities and regulators from day one.