Pietà restaurateurs plead not guilty in money laundering case linked to Debono

Prosecuting inspectors suspect “hand of Darren Debono” behind restaurants connected with income from BVI offshore companies

The Onda Blu restaurant in Pietà
The Onda Blu restaurant in Pietà

The police have charged Keith Testa, 29, and accountant Carlos Dimech, 27, in their personal capacity and as directors of Pietà Marina Caterers Ltd which operates the restaurant Onda Blu in Pietà, in connection with suspected fuel smuggler Darren Debono

Testa and Dimech pleaded not guilty. 

Inspector James Turner, from the Anti-Money-Laundering Squad, said investigations focused on various commercial establishments and restaurants run by companies with offices based at a San Ġwann quarry. 

Police suspected “the hand of Darren Debono” behind all this, after investigations into suspected financial crimes by the former footballer led to money-laundering charges against the two company directors. 

Similar proceedings have been taken against Valletta-based Porticello and Marsaxlokk-based Capo Mulini, fronted by Debono’s stepdaughter, Florinda Sultana, and former high-ranking bank official Albert Buttigieg, who are both pleading not guilty to money laundering and other financial crimes.  

The police identified simultaneous expenses between companies, income from British Virgin Islands offshore companies, unexplained inter-company transfers as well as movement of employees from one establishment to another. 

Turner said the companies followed the same method of incorporation, shared the same auditor, had a similar pattern of sales, salaries and purchases and the same culinary concept. Daily cash flow was not deposited but was retained to cover other payments. 

Turner said the structure of the companies appeared to indicate that they were administered by the same persons, most notably Debono. Although the source of funding was allegedly linked to oil smuggling, Turner said there were no fuel smuggling proceedings in Malta against Debono, save for the one pending case in Italy. 

But the prosecution was not in a position to quantify the amounts invested by Debono in these companies.  

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, upheld a request for a freezing order by the prosecution. 

The restaurant directors are represented by defence lawyer Stefano Filletti and Maronia Magri. AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Cinzia Alamango assisted prosecuting inspectors James Turner, Omar Caruana and Joseph Xerri.