Libyan minister Gatrani: ‘No objection’ was not endorsement of smuggler Ben Khalifa

A letter from Ali Gatrani, a member of the Libyan Presidency Council, certified the company of known fuel smuggler Fahmi Slim Ben Khalifa as being bona fide

A Libyan politician has denied suggestions that he was aware of fuel smuggling allegations when he signed off on a letter certifying accused smuggler Fahmi Slim Ben Khalifa’s company as being bona fide.

The crime syndicate that smuggled some €30 million in fuel oil from Libya using Maltese ships, was assisted by the signature of one, Ali Gatrani, a boycotting member of the Libyan Presidency Council.

A letter from November 2015, seen by MaltaToday in its original Arabic version and a certified English translation, shows that Gatrani put his name to a letter certifying Ben Khalifa’s operation Tiuboda Oil and Gas Services, as a bona fide company.

Signing his letter as chairman of the Libyan House of Representatives’ economy, trade and investment committee, he effectively allowed Ben Khalifa’s company to be recognised as a legitimate business operation.

The letter’s timing is all the more crucial, having been written right after the revealing exposé on 16 October 2015 by Ann Marlowe in the Asia Times, where she revealed how Fahmi Slim Ben Khalifa was a powerful human and fuel trafficker working in partnership with Maltese businessmen.

Gatrani was reported by the Libyan Herald as denying having endorsed any illegal activity.

“Gatrani has expressed astonishment at being drawn into the affair. He points out that providing a letter for Ben Khalifa to state that his company was legally set up in no way endorses any illegal activities that it may have become embroiled in,” the Libyan Herald reported.

Gatrani said he did not want to say anything while the case against Ben Khalifa, arrested by Tripoli’s Rada Militia back in August, was ongoing.

Gatrani is a member of the Libyan House of Representatives, which was ousted from power in Tripoli by Islamist-led Libya Dawn forces, and forced to flee to Tobruk.

Gatrani’s letter mentions Tiuboda and states that the HOR “within the framework of motivating and encouraging nationals to take part and raise the performance standard and to accelerate the national economy of the country, until it becomes on the same level of developed countries, has no objection for such institutions to carry out their business.”

With the stamp of Libya’s recognised government at the time, Ben Khalifa and his Maltese accomplices could convince authorities that the fuel they were trading was purchased legally.

Although knowing that Ben Khalifa was a smuggling kingpin, Gatrani would later complain that the Maltese government was ignoring complaints on fuel smuggling. After the UN report was issued in March 2016, Gatrani was reported in the Libyan press to have sent a letter on 17 July to the Maltese ambassador on illegal fuel exports to Malta through companies licensed for “oil services” – a veiled reference to Tiuboda’s activities.

But seven days later, the Maltese foreign ministry told the press that the ambassador had never received any such communication.

On 20 October, the former Malta international footballer Darren Debono and fuel trader Gordon Debono were arrested in Lampedusa and Catania respectively. Darren Debono was a business partner of Ben Khalifa.

The arrests were the result of a three-year police investigation in Italy that revealed how Tiuboda smuggled fuel out of Libya, using Maltese ships and the connivance of Italian merchants to place the fuel on European markets.

The crime syndicate used false certificates to obtain a stamp of approval from the Maltese Chamber of Commerce so that their fuel exports could be offloaded at Italian ports.

With these certificates in hand, Darren Debono was also successful in obtaining two apostilles from the Maltese ministry of foreign affairs’ legalisation officer, when the Chamber of Commerce stopped certifying his exports after a UN report into fule smuggling allegations was published.

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