Kingpin fuel and human smuggler with Malta links arrested by Libyans

Fahmi Ben Khalifa, who owned ADJ Trading with former Malta international footballer Darren Debono and an Egyptian man, was arrested by a militia force

Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa
Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa

A Libyan kingpin fuel and human trafficker with well-known links to Malta has been arrested by a militia force, after years of unceasing criminal activity.

Tripoli’s Rada Special Deterrence Force on Friday announced it had taken under arrest one of the biggest Libyan fuel smugglers and human traffickers: Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa from Zuwara, whom Rada dubbed the “king of smuggling”, and is reportedly a businessmen with his own transport network, property in Malta and investment in tourism.

The United Nations’ panel of experts on Libya had told the Security Council in a report that fuel smuggled from Libya was being transferred between ships on the high seas and brought to Malta.

They identified the mastermind as Fahmi Ben Khalifa, who co-owns ADJ Trading with former Malta international footballer Darren Debono and an Egyptian man, Ibrahim Arafa Ahmed.

The company is now in dissolution and since 2015, Darren Debono personally and his companies terminated all trading, business and commercial relationships with Ben Khalifa (see right of reply, below).

The UN report’s detailed annex on fuel smuggling had linked ADJ Trading to the fuel smuggling business and pointed out that the Maltese authorities were aware of the company’s activities.

In a statement released late on Friday, the Rada militia said that it had arrested Khalifa, “one of the biggest smugglers of hydrocarbons and manipulators of Libyan assets, the famous ‘smuggling king’ of Zuwara.”

“He is considered to be one of the biggest smugglers across the (Mediterranean) Sea, and owns transporters. He is also very active in sending death boats across the (Libyan) shores of Zuwara and Sabratha. The suspect’s activity increased until he became known as the ‘king of smuggling’.”

Rada also said Khalifa owns property in Malta and Turkey, and was building a tourist village in the Libyan coastal city of Zuwara.

“During preliminary investigations, he reported that there are many other figures implicated with him in fuel smuggling in the city (of Zuwara and neighbouring cities of Zawia and Sabratha),” Rada said, which is issuing arrest warrants for collaborators.

The arrest of the smuggling kingpin comes in the wake of renewed European efforts to bolster Libyan coastguard capacity to patrol territorial waters and stop boatloads of refugees and asylum seekers from reaching Europe.

The UN’s panel of experts had said in their report on Khalifa that 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, a tracking 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 to other vessels that carry it to the coast.

The UN report linked Khalifa to two vessels involved in the smuggling, Basbosa Star and Amazigh F, which changed her name in December last year to Sea Master X. In 10 instances both vessels were detected alongside each other on the limits of Maltese territorial waters during 2015.

Company records show that Khalifa held €330,000 worth of shares in ADJ Trading, with the same amount held by Debono and Arafa. Debono also owns the company Andrea Martina Ltd, which operates the Bonu 5. The UN report said marine traffic data showed Bonu 5 approached the Amazigh F and Basbosa Star on September 24, 2015. The three vessels were side-by-side.

While ADJ Trading is in dissolution, with the last filed company records being those for 2015, Debono formed a new company in 2016, World Water Holdings Ltd.

Khalifa was said to have controlled a militia and chaired the board of directors of a Libyan company, Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services Limited, which requested a licence to import fuel into Malta. The report said that according to the Maltese authorities, the request was rejected owing to the situation in Libya.

RIGHT OF REPLY by Mr Debono's lawyers

It is correct to state that Mr Darren Debono was a shareholder in a company named ADJ Trading Limited (Reg. No. C 41310); both Mr Fahmi Bin Khalif and Mr Ibrahim Arafa Ahmed also held shares in the same company. However when Mr Fahmi Bin Khalif was first mentioned in the press some two years ago, my client stopped all activities and all trading in the company and placed the company into liquidation. This is the reason that the last trading accounts refer to the year 2015. Since 2015, Darren Debono personally and/or his companies terminated all trading, business and/or commercial relationships with Mr Bin Khalif.

Some two months ago, the company liquidator completed and filed the liquidation accounts with the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), and saving for any third party making a claim against the company before the Maltese Civil Court, the company will be struck off the Register of Companies of the Malta Financial Services Authority in the first days of September 2017. These facts can be confirmed with the MFSA.

It is interesting to note that in a report dated 1" June 2017 (Ref: 5/2017/466) by a ‘Panel of Experts on Libya’ appointed by the Security Council of the United Nations, no mention is made to any vessel or person directly or indirectly connected to ADJ Trading Limited and/or Mr Darren Debono.