Daphne Caruana Galizia’s name does not appear in ‘Dirty Oil’ investigation, Italian prosecutor says

Prosecuting magistrate Carmelo Zuccaro tells MaltaToday that his investigation has not established any link between Caruana Galizia and two Maltese men arrested over a fuel smuggling racket involving Malta, Italy and Libya. Malta police exclude nothing yet

Ex-footballer Darren Debono was arrested in Lampedusa last week for his alleged involvement in a fuel smuggling ring
Ex-footballer Darren Debono was arrested in Lampedusa last week for his alleged involvement in a fuel smuggling ring

Arrest warrants for two Maltese wanted in Italy involved in fuel smuggling were issued 48 hours after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder but according to the Italian prosecutor this was coincidental.

Speaking to MaltaToday this morning, Catania prosecuting magistrate Carmelo Zuccaro confirmed that Caruana Galizia’s name had not cropped up in his investigation, dubbed Dirty oil, despite what the Italian media has reported.

Zuccaro had ordered the arrest warrants for former national team footballer Darren Debono and Gordon Debono for their involvement in a lucrative fuel smuggling ring, a day after Caruana Galizia’s murder. The Italian Guardia di Finanza arrested Darren Debono in Lampedusa two days later, while Gordon Debono was stopped at Catania airport.

The Italian media has drawn a direct link between the Dirty Oil arrests and Caruana Galizia’s murder, pointing out that the journalist had mentioned Darren Debono in two blogs back in 2016. The theory made headlines on RaiNews24 yesterday.

But Zuccaro insisted no such link could be drawn from his investigation.

“Nowhere in my investigation does Daphne Caruana Galizia’s name appear, not even in phone intercepts,” Zuccaro said, adding the probe was still ongoing. The Debonos are being held in a Sicilian jail.

Sources close to the murder investigation in Malta said the police have not excluded anything yet as they try to establish whether the journalist was working on something that had not yet been published.

The other suspects in Dirty oil 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, a firm in which both Debono and Bin Khalifa were once shareholders.

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.
An original investigation by journalist Ann Marlowe for the Asia Times in 2015 had revealed that the Maltese company ADJ Trading was used to run a network of fishing trawlers used for fuel smuggling. UN experts in 2016 later confirmed this in a report.
According to the acts of the case against the Debonos and others, phone intercepts revealed how Darren Debono and his associates were fuming over Marlowe’s reportage, which they said “influenced” the UN experts.

“They are just copying and pasting what that asshole of a journalist wrote on the Wall Street Journal,” Darren Debono allegedly told a friend.

Caruana Galizia had posted the Wall Street Journal article on her own blog, called Running Commentary but did not probe the matter further.

In another blog, Caruana Galizia had singled out the daughter of Darren Debono’s partner for appearing in a Labour Party election spot in 2013. The journalist had later reported being verbally assaulted by the daughter’s grandmother in St Julians.

Marlowe tweeted earlier this week that according to her sources in Libya the Semtex used in the car bomb that killed Caruana Galizia came from the Libyan port city of Zuwarah. The police in Malta have so far been reluctant to confirm that the explosive was indeed Semtex.

A lawyer for Darren Debono had told MaltaToday that his client had terminated all trading commercial relationships with Bin 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 2016 UN report had 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.

According to the Italian investigation, the smuggled fuel would be transferred to Maxcom Bunker SPA – based in Rome – using false documentation to cheat customs on the provenance of the oil.

Maxcom would then sell the fuel in France and Spain at similar prices as competitors, but benefit from buying the smuggled fuel at prices cut by 60%.