Libya fuel smuggling: ‘Dirty money remains problem for Malta’ – sanctions board

Compilation of evidence against Pierre Paul Debono, former director of World Water Fisheries, continued in court this morning

Once dirty money is introduced to the island, it remains a problem for the jurisdiction, the chairman from Malta’s Sanctions Monitoring Board told a court yesterday. 

Neville Aquilina, chairman of the Sanctions Monitoring Board, exhibited three United Nations reports to the court compiling evidence against Pierre-Paul Debono, former director of World Water Fisheries. 

Not only is the accused mentioned in the reports, but a good number of others, said the witness. The UN panel of experts says that ships and Maltese companies are also involved in the smuggling of Libyan resources in violation of UN sanctions. 

Pierre-Paul Debono is pleading not guilty to charges of laundering money between 2014 and 2016 when he had temporarily held the post of director in his brother Darren Debono’s company, World Water Fisheries. 

He also denies knowingly or negligently making false declarations to auditors, destroying, altering or falsifying documents and breaching laws. 

Debono’s brother is former Malta international footballer Darren Debono, who also stands charged with fuel smuggling and money laundering in separate proceedings. 

“These are reports compiled by a panel of experts by the UN,” Aquilina told magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras on Tuesday. Giving a brief overview of the UN framework, he explained that the security council gives orders to member nations, and can order military action or further sanctions in default. The UN sanctions committee uses a panel of 8 experts to see that sanctions are being implemented. 

The court was told how former US President Barack Obama had issued an executive order in 2016, prohibiting Americans from engaging with those targeted by UN sanctions and freezing any related property under US jurisdictions. 

The sanctions targeted people from Libya, Malta and Egypt for “involvement in the smuggling of petroleum products from Libya to Europe.” 

A relevant section of one 2016 report reads: 

“The fuel smuggled from Zuwarah comes from the Zawiyah refinery, which refines crude oil received from other Libyan terminals. Zawiyah also receives refined products from abroad that are stored there. Fuel is then distributed to suppliers in the surrounding area, but significant quantities are also sold to smugglers. 

“The ships smuggling fuel sail south from Malta to between 40 and 60 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, where they turn off the Automated Identification System. After they are loaded, they return to Malta. The vessels remain adrift at least 12 nautical miles off the coast, outside Maltese territorial waters, while they discharge the fuel onto other vessels that carry it to the coast.” 

Once dirty money is introduced to the island, it remains a problem for the jurisdiction, Aquilina said. 

Cross-examined by defence counsel, lawyer Franco Debono, the witness was asked whether Pierre-Paul Debono was mentioned in the documents. “I don’t know about [Pierre-Paul] Debono, but companies ADJ trading, World Water Fisheries, are amongst those mentioned.” The witness was unable to say whether Pierre-Paul Debono was mentioned by name but confirmed that Darren Debono, his brother, was. 

Debono asked the witness directly what the punishment for breaching sanctions was. “I don’t think a country can fail to implement UN sanctions,” Aquilina replied. 

During Pierre-Paul Debono’s arraignment, a request for a freezing order was withdrawn by the prosecution, in a move praised by the defence for its “sense of justice and practicality.”

The case continues in January. 

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are defence counsel. 

Inspectors Joseph Xerri, James Turner and Omar Caruana are prosecuting, assisted by AG lawyers Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango and Antoine Agius Bonnici.