Court dismisses Darren Debono’s attempt to block UN sanctions

Judge Mark Chetcuti said that no proof had been presented that sanctions were being sought and that the Maltese courts ultimately had no jurisdiction over discussions between different states

Darren Debono's request to block Malta from pursuing sanctions against him has been dismissed by the courts
Darren Debono's request to block Malta from pursuing sanctions against him has been dismissed by the courts

Alleged fuel smuggler Darren Debono's attempt to block the Maltese government from pursuing UN sanctions against him has been dismissed by the courts.

In a judgment handed down yesterday Mr Justice Mark Chetcuti noted that there was no evidence showing that Malta had in fact initiated any process at the UN to impose sanctions, adding that, in any case, the Maltese courts had no jurisdiction over discussions between different states. 

“No evidence has been presented that indicates that there is some motion that is being processed or proposed before the Maltese Parliament or any other international organ,” Chetcuti said.

Debono is currently facing charges in an Italian court in Catania after having been arrested in September 2017, along with Gordon Debono (no relation), for their involvement in an oil smuggling ring between Libya and Italy. Since then, his businesses have been hit by OFAC sanctions, and he has petitioned the US embassy in Malta to have the sanctions lifted.

Both Darren Debono and Gordon Debono filed prohibitory warrants of injunction, seeking to block the government from imposing sanctions after it was revealed by MaltaToday last month that a petition seeking sanctions against the two men had been put before the UN Security Council by Malta. The petition was put on a technical hold after Russia, which holds a veto within the council, requested more information before the petition can move forward.

Speaking on current affairs programme Xtra, the US Chargé d’Affaires Mark A. Schapiro said that Russia had decided to side with "known gangsters and smugglers", an interview which Debono's legal team pointed to as proving that the process for imposing sanctions had indeed been initiated.  

A court dismissed Gordon Debono’s application last week after the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said in a sworn declaration that the government, at present, has no intention of pursuing any sanctions.

A similar declaration was presented by the government in Darren Debono’s case and despite Debono insisting that the application of further sanctions would ruin him, the court said it had no power to stop the government from doing something it had no evidence it was doing.

READ MORE: Debono claims US want info on ‘PM and Keith Schembri’ over Russian refuelling

He said that while Debono’s rights at law did indeed need to be protected, this needed to be viewed within the context of Debono’s request.

Chetcuti observed that for sanctions to be imposed either locally or abroad, they would be imposed on the basis of legislation, which also included legal remedies which Debono could access if sanctions were applied in an abusive or incorrect manner. 

“Therefore, it can’t be said that the applicant, at this stage when there isn’t even proof that these sanctions exist, that there is some danger that his rights will or are being prejudiced,” the judge noted.

He said that none of the laws that allow for sanctions to be applied impose any obligation for the parties to be advised beforehand if action is to be taken against them. 

Chetcuti further said that the scope of any restrictive sanctions is for a person or entity that is breaking the law in a serious manner, and one that can prejudice the integrity and security of a state or group of states, to be stripped of the ability to do so.

Furthermore, he pointed out that the courts had no jurisdiction over diplomatic talks between states, nor did it have jurisdiction over international fora, like the United Nations.  

In a statement issued following the sitting, the Maltese government noted that the declaration made in court did not “imply that actions done in the past or actions that can be taken in the future could be changed” and that it remained committed to such actions.  

READ MORE: Malta and US denounce ‘spying’ allegation in fuel smuggling sanctions court case

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