Banks asked no questions about offshore payments into Darren Debono company

Darren Debono's companies changed directorships often to avoid American sanctions over trading in illicit Libyan oil, a court hears in money laundering case against his brother • Charges filed against a second man who ran the money laundering operation

Money from oil smuggling was used to buy the premises at Marsamxett in Valletta, which was used as a restaurant
Money from oil smuggling was used to buy the premises at Marsamxett in Valletta, which was used as a restaurant

Updated at 6:24pm with arraignment of second man

Offshore cash was being sent via Maltese companies into Darren Debono's World Water Fisheries Ltd with no questions asked by Maltese banks, a police inspector has told a court.

The statement was made in front of Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras who is presiding the money laundering case against Pier-Paul Debono, 43, from San Gwann. Debono, a plasterer and sometime director of World Water Fisheries, is the brother of former international footballer Darren Debono.

He is accused, as a director, shareholder or beneficiary of World Water Fisheries, of committing money laundering offences. Other charges include misleading auditors, destruction of documentation dealing with the false registration of documents, altering documents and making a false declaration to the police.

Police Inspector James Turner testified on Wednesday, explaining that he had been investigating Darren Debono and his associates over fuel smuggling. Receipts for fuel, issued by one company, Timodia, showed that it was not actually being paid for the fuel, but another company belonging to Debono was being paid instead. 

The inspector told the court that he had seen evidence of shareholder loans between World Water Fisheries and other companies: ADJ Trading Ltd, Andrea Martina and Oceano Blu amongst others. 

Malta-based companies ADJ Trading Limited and Oceano Blu Trading Limited, together with Libya-based Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services LLC were designated by OFAC for being involved in the illicit exploitation of crude oil and natural resources in Libya, including the illicit production, refining, brokering, sale, purchase, or export of Libyan oil.  ADJ Trading Limited is also owned or controlled by Darren Debono, Fahmi Ben Khalifa and Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan Arafa.

Money transfers and roundabout methods

Offshore monies were being sent via these companies into World Water Fisheries, said the inspector. “No explanation was asked for by local banks.”

The second stage of inspector Turner’s investigation looked at the continuous change in directorship of the local companies to avoid OFAC sanctions. Turner said the accused was a director during the peak of the turnover.

Oceano Blu had transferred some €5 million to World Water Fisheries, through consultancies and other roundabout methods, he went on. This meant there was a mixing of money from the oil and fish markets, added the inspector.

The premises used by the restaurant Al Mare, later Scoglietti and still later Porticello, were bought using this money, said the inspector.

Freezing order withdrawn by prosecution.

The prosecution in this case withdrew the freezing order over Debono’s finances, in a move which the defence said was appreciated, praising the prosecution’s “sense of justice and practicality.”

Debono’s lawyers, Franco Debono, Marion Camilleri and Francesca Zarb described how “life stops when these orders are issued.”

The court was told that the accused had only been a director for two months, a position he had been given by his brother when he was out of work. In those two months, decisions were made by Darren Debono, said the lawyer. “He did what he did as a favour to his brother. After leaving he returned to his self employment.”

Investigations showed that the directors had changed. Spiridione Goodlip had been listed as a director of World Water Fisheries and didn’t even know about it, when spoken to by the police. Darren Debono had simply told him that he would be needed to help if something happened to the business, the inspector said.

“He had made himself out to be a director of World Water Fisheries whilst the company was being used to hide dirty money from oil,” the court was told.

“Pier Paul Debono was there solely for his signature and did nothing to prevent the company from being used for illicit purposes.”

The court decreed that it had been shown sufficient prima facie evidence for the man to be indicted. The case continues in November.

Second man accused of running money laundering operation

Meanwhile, in a second money laundering case, the court opted not to freeze the personal assets of a man accused of running a money laundering operation on behalf of Darren Debono.

Debono is the target of OFAC sanctions in connection with an alleged fuel smuggling operation. This afternoon before Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, 54-year-old Kevin Newell was charged, together with Wave Catering Limited, with money laundering in connection with a police operation aimed at taking apart in an organised crime group that allegedly laundered money for a €30 million fuel smuggling racket linked to restaurants owned by Debono. 

Newell pleaded not guilty to the charges when he was arraigned by summons earlier this afternoon.

Inspector James Turner, prosecuting, told the court that through Wave Catering Ltd, the accused had operated Porticello restaurant on behalf of sanction-stricken Debono. The company was later acquired by Nesvan Ltd, a company belonging to Florinda Sultana, Debono’s step-daughter, who was arraigned earlier this year on related charges.

Cross-examined by lawyer Ishmael Psaila, the prosecution said it was unable to quantify the amounts of money allegedly laundered, and did not know when the company’s foreign bank accounts were opened or when the sanctions were imposed.

Psaila said he is contesting prima facie with regards to the case against Newell in his personal capacity.

The lawyer insisted that only the company should be struck with the freezing order that is mandatory in such cases, arguing that Newell had always acted as the director of Wave Catering Ltd and not in his personal capacity.

As it did in a connected case against Debono’s brother, the court upheld the argument and froze only the company’s assets, leaving the accused’s personal assets untouched.