Operation Octopus: Customs personnel charged with fraud and corruption

EPPO investigation Operation Octopus uncovers fraudulent scheme to evade the payment of customs taxes and duties on the importation of clothing, bags, shoes and other goods from China, by under-declaring their value and weight

Malta Freeport (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Malta Freeport (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Seven men and two women were charged with customs fraud and corruption on Wednesday after a sting operation led by the European Public Prosecutors Office.

Six customs officers, three customs operators and two companies were charged on Wednesday, with customs fraud, active and passive corruption of public officials, participation in a criminal organisation and money laundering.

This is the first case brought to court by the EPPO in Malta. 

The individuals charged on Wednesday evening are Jonathan Mizzi, 49, from Ħ’Attard; Greta Mizzi, 46, from Ħ’Attard; Otman Ali Otman Abdulkader, 44, a Libyan national who also holds a passport from Antigua and Barbuda and lives in St Julians; Duncan Mangion, 47, from Fgura, Carmel Busuttil, 55, from Ħal Luqa; Timothy Galea, 45, from Naxxar; Jonathan Theuma, 47, from Żurrieq; Edward Mifsud, 54, from Rabat; and Marika Bugeja, 51, from Rabat.

The companies charged were Akakus International Limited and Convey Shipping & Trading Agency Ltd represented by Abdulkader and Greta Mizzi respectively.

The EPPO said at issue is a suspected fraudulent scheme to evade the payment of customs taxes and duties on the importation of clothing, bags, shoes and other goods from China, by under-declaring their value and weight. It is alleged that this was done with the complicity of customs officials, who are believed to have been offered money to refrain from correctly carrying out their duties.

It is understood that the illicit activities started in December 2021 and were halted in July 2023, when eight suspects were arrested at the request of the EPPO. It is estimated that these activities caused a damage of over €15.9 million to Malta’s national budget and over €7.6 million to the EU budget.

Earlier in this investigation, in order to recover the damage to the EU and national budgets, the EPPO seized property worth €6 million and 195 containers of goods, worth a combined value of €5.8 million, as well as vehicles, luxury items and €170 000 in cash. The EPPO counted on the support of the Financial Crime Investigations Department within the Malta Police Force, Malta’s Customs and VAT Departments and Malta’s Asset Recovery Bureau.

The Mizzi spouses, Abdulkader, and two companies were separately charged with fraud exceeding €100,000 affecting EU budgetary funds, making fraudulent gains, and other fraud exceeding €5,000 to the detriment of the Maltese government.

Jonathan Mizzi and Abdulkader were separately charged with bribing customs officials, falsification of public documents, and knowingly making use of false documents and false declarations.

Mangion, Busuttil, Galea, Theuma, Mifsud, and Bugeja, as public officers, were also charged with complicity in fraud, accepting bribes, and misappropriation.

The Mizzi couple and Abdulkader were also separately charged with making false declarations for tax purposes, specifically to evade customs duties and other taxes on merchandise in 31 containers.

All pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors informed the court that in 2022 and 2023, Malta participated in Operation Octopus, which targeted imports from third countries. Numerous goods were falsely declared as originating from Taiwan when they were actually from China.

Several containers with these false declarations were uncovered.

The imports were conducted by a company registered under the name Greta Mizzi, though investigators believed Jonathan Mizzi was the true operator of the business. Approximately 50 containers per week were imported, primarily for transit to the EU.

EPPO Officers Geoffrey Azzopardi and Martin Sammut prosecuted together with Inspector Joseph Xerri. Lawyers Franco Debono, Adreana Zammit, Arthur Azzopardi, Ishmael Psaila, Alfred Abela, Michael Sciriha and Roberto Spiteri were defence counsel.