Egyptian who captained 2020 migrant pushback stripped of asylum

Amer Abdelrazek, seafarer associated with fuel smuggling circles and present during April 2020 pushback of migrants to Libya, is revoked subsidiary protection

The fishing trawler Tremar captained by Amer Abdelrazek was one of three private vessels involved in unofficial pushbacks of rescued migrants at the height of the pandemic in 2020
The fishing trawler Tremar captained by Amer Abdelrazek was one of three private vessels involved in unofficial pushbacks of rescued migrants at the height of the pandemic in 2020

An Egyptian national who benefited from asylum in Malta has been belatedly stripped of protection, after years in which he was associated with the illegal pushback of migrants at sea in Easter 2020, and according to police intelligence seen by MaltaToday, the shadowy world of fuel smuggling. 

Amer Abdelrazek – aka Amer Barakat Zaky Abdel Razak – lost his status of subsidiary protection after losing a court case challenging the removal of his protection by the International Protection Agency (IPA). 

Subsidiary protection is an intermediate form of protection for an asylum claimant, that is renewed periodically, only until conditions in their country of origin make it safe for them to return. 

The official reason for the cancellation of protection is that Abdelrazek, 44, who is known to Maltese police, had misrepresented information about a drug conviction in Egypt. The IPA contends that while Abdelrazek did admit the drug charges, he had willfully misrepresented it as an act of persecution by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The official certificate granting Amer Abdelrazek subsidiary protection in Malta
The official certificate granting Amer Abdelrazek subsidiary protection in Malta

Originally in April 2014, the IPA – then as the Commissioner for Refugees – denied his asylum claim. But the refugee appeals board chaired by then-lawyer – now magistrate – Joseph Mifsud, upheld his claim due to the upheavals in Egypt after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian army. Abdelrazek’s asylum claim had then been filed exactly one month after receiving an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for three years, for using a forged passport and false licensing for the boat, the Golden Dawn, on which he resided. 

Abdelrazek’s subsidiary protection has been regularly renewed since then. 

But in 2021, the IPA received information from the Malta police that he had been convicted for drug trafficking charges in Egypt, receiving a life imprisonment sentence. “You are also known to the Maltese authorities as having been involved with serious organised crime groups dealing in fuel and contraband smuggling,” the IPA told Abdelrazek. 

MaltaToday has seen a confidential police report attesting to this claim, in which Abdelrazek’s name appears as an associate, though not a core member, of a Maltese organised crime group connected to drug trafficking.

Abdelrazek’s lawyers contested the revocation of his subsidiary protection, insisting that their client was never once questioned by police and that he had a clean police conduct – despite the falsified passport charges he had been found gulity of. The IPA countered that Abdelrazek had, in his asylum claim, first stated he was arrested on drug charges “as he was walking next to a group of Muslim Brotherhood members”; then changed his version at appeals stage by claiming he was himself a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Abdelrazek, who has lived in Malta since 2011, has been associated with suspicious seafaring activities in well-documented cases. 

Indeed, in the Easter of 2020 when Malta was under the COVID lockdown, the Abela administration enforced a shutdown of ports that prevented the rescue of migrants at sea by NGOs. It was Abdelrazek himself who admitted to the New York Times that the boat he commanded, the Tremar, was part of an unofficial pushback of migrants who were steaming towards the Maltese waters, ironically to prevent them making their own bid to claim asylum. 

The Tremar was one of three trawlers that on 12 April 2020 sailed out of Valletta – the other two were the  Dar Al Salam 1 and the  Salve Regina – all on order of Abdelrazek, who in turn is believed to have been instructed by members of the Abela administration.

Former OPM official Neville Gafá has said in court that he was “operating under Libyan jurisdiction” when he coordinated the pushback of migrants at Malta’s request, but denied instructing Abdelrazek in comments to MaltaToday,

The trawlers switched off their satellite tracking devices soon after leaving port, to intercept a migrant vessel attempting to reach Malta, and return it to the Libyan coastguard. The Dar Al Salam 1 and the Tremar reached the migrant vessel on 14 April, guided by a Maltese military helicopter. Around 50 survivors were taken aboard the Dar Al Salam 1, and together with the Salve Regina, returned to Tripoli on 15 April. The Tremar waited in international waters, Abdelrazek had told the NYT.

Fuel smuggling connection 

Abdelrazek is also a principal of two companies, Daha Oil & Gas, and Rema Trading, which have been identified by Italian police as being connected to ships that were involved in fuel smuggling near Hurd’s Bank. One of these ships is the Bonnie B. 

Abdelrazek is also implicated in another case involving ship owners from Italy and Malta, whose complexity is illustrated by one particular event: the arson of one lawyer, Graziella Attard’s car, on 16 October, 2017.

Abdelrazek and his brother Khaled Barakat Abdelrazek had filed a case against Attard, and the company owning the fishing vessel Agostino Padre, in 2016, claiming Attard had received a €2.3 million payment, of which €1.3 million had to be paid back to them. The understanding could have been down to an issue of Sharia law that prevented the Egyptian parties from partaking in an interest-bearing loan. 

Attard filed a counter-claim against the Abdelrazek brothers, and two players in the fuel business: Italian national Claudio La Rosa of KB Petrols, and Gordon Debono, of Petroplus. The latter’s name is especially notorious, accused in both Malta and Italy in connection with the €30 million fuel smuggling ring intercepted in Operation Dirty Oil in 2017. 

Attard had claimed that the €2.3 million payment, drafted by La Rosa as a settlement of debts with the previous owners of the Agostino Padre, had been made “after much pressure, violence, and fraud”. The former owners of the Agostino Padre had been debtors of La Rosa for the sum of €1.3 million, before they sold the company on to Graziella Attard.