Maltese wanted in Italy over Libyan fuel smuggling racket worth €30 million

Italians issue arrest warrant for former Malta footballer Darren Debono, Libyan smuggling king Fahmi bin Khalifa, and Sicilian mafia associate Nicola Orazio Romeo

Libyan 'smuggling king' Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa was arrested in August by a Libyan militia
Libyan 'smuggling king' Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa was arrested in August by a Libyan militia

An Italian  judicial prosecutor has issued arrest warrants for Maltese, Italian and Libyan suspects, over allegations of fuel smuggling from Libya.

The Maltese suspects are former footballer Darren Debono and Gordon Debono, which the prosuector claims organised the sea transport through companies involved in the illicit business.

The other suspects include Libyan ‘smuggling king’ Fahmi Salim Musa Bin Khalifa, who was arrested in August by a Libyan militia in Tripoli – the Rada Special Deterrence Force; and Nicola Orazio Romeo, of Catania in Sicily.

Romeo, linked to the Mafia clan of Santapaola-Ercolano, was revealed by the Panama Papers of having had offshore companies linked to the same San Gwann address as ADJ Trading.

The photos of the suspects issued by the Catanese prosecutor
The photos of the suspects issued by the Catanese prosecutor

The prosecutor said Romeo is “an integral part of the Maltese component of the organisation, whose primary function is organising the fuel transport by sea”.

The operation was said to have carried out over 30 trips to transport over 80 million kilogrammes of gasoil, for the value of some €30 million.

ADJ was at one point owned by both Bin Khalifa and Debono, which company was used to run a network of fishing trawlers used for fuel smuggling according to a United Nations report in 2016.

The company is now in dissolution. A lawyer for Darren Debono had told MaltaToday his client terminated all trading commercial relationships with Ben Khalifa and put the company into dissolution. His lawyer added that in a new UN experts’ report released this year, “no mention is made to any vessel or person directly or indirectly connected to ADJ Trading Limited and/or Mr Darren Debono.”

The original UN report linked Bin Khalifa to two vessels involved in the fuel smuggling operation: Basbosa Star and Amazigh F, which changed her name in December 2015 to Sea Master X. Both vessels were tracked close to the Libyan shore on multiple occasions in 2015. In 10 instances both vessels were detected alongside each other on the limits of Maltese territorial waters. The report said marine traffic data showed the vessel Bonu 5 – once owned by Debono’s company Andrea Martina –  approached the Amazigh F and Basbosa Star on September 24, 2015. The three vessels were side-by-side.

Other arrests

The other arrest warrants were issued for Marco Porta, the company administrator for the Italian firm Maxcom Bunker, and Libyan national Tareq Dardar, suspected of collecting monies in foreign accounts held for Bin Khalifa.

The Catanese prosecutor said that Nicola Orazia Romeo, had already been indicated in 2008 as belonging to the Santapaola clan, and an extortion racket in the Acireale and Aci Catena areas.

According to the Italian investigation, Maxcom Bunker SPA – base din Rome – would sell the fuel in France and Spain at similar prices as competitors, but benefit from buying the smuggled fuel at prices cut by 60%.

As identified by the UN panel of experts, it was Bin Khalifa who controlled the smuggling business from Zwarah and Abu Kammash ports. Some of the ships sent out at sea with the fuel, would anchor 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.

Company records show that Khalifa once held €330,000 worth of shares in ADJ Trading, with the same amount held by Debono and another shareholder, Ibrahim Arafa Ahmed.

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.

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