Darren Debono, Jeffrey Chetcuti arrested in connection with anti-smuggling sting operation

Raids targeting Darren Debono and a number of his associates carried out over the past few days

Former Malta footballer Darren Debono
Former Malta footballer Darren Debono

Former footballers Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti have been arrested by police in connection with a nationwide anti-smuggling sting operation carried out overnight.

The Times of Malta has reported that a number of raids were carried out between Monday and Tuesday.

Raids targeted Debono and a number of his associates touted to be involved in an international fuel smuggling operation.

Reports have said that lawyer Arthur Azzopardi and accountant Chris Baldacchino were also arrested, with the two being interrogated on Tuesday in connection with suspected money laundering activity.

Baldacchino’s firm, which had provided corporate services to one of the companies implicated in Operation Dirty Oil fuel smuggling ring, was fined €58,900 by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) in October.

Their clients included ADJ Trading, a company implicated in the €30 million Libyan fuel smuggling ring, that was controlled by former national team footballer Darren Debono, the Libyan smuggler kingpin Fahmi Slim Ben Khalifa and Egyptian national Ahmed Ibra-him Hassan Arafa.

Debono and Chetcuti were also arraigned on Monday. They were charged with money laundering and smuggling offences, before being denied bail and spending the night in prison.

Darren Debono had been arrested in 2017 with associate Gordon Debono (no relation) and Libya milita leader Fahmi Ben Khalifa. They were suspected of being involved in a multi-million-euro fuel smuggling ring with links to the Italian mafia and Libyan armed groups.

The report also states that the raids carried out over the last few days have been linked to a number of intelligence reports on how the fuel smugglers were laundering income from their illicit activity.

In October, a judge had ordered the Bank of Valletta to release €296,000 in funds belonging to Darren Debono, which had been frozen under American sanctions, after ruling that there was nothing at law binding Maltese banks to obey sanctions from the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The US Department of the Treasury’s OFAC had sanctioned Debono from a total of six individuals and 24 entities in 2018 over their alleged role in a €30 million fuel smuggling ring that stretched from Libya to Italy. Debono is facing charges on his role in the ring in Sicily.

READ ALSO: BOV told to release Debono cash bank withheld under OFAC sanctions