Darren Debono, currently facing fuel smuggling charges in Italy, back in Malta

The former national team footballer was under house arrest in Catania after being arrested by Italian authorities on the island of Lampedusa last year

Darren Debono
Darren Debono

Former Malta national team footballer Darren Debono, who was arrested on the island of Lampedusa last year on charges of fuel smuggling, is back in Malta.

Debono was arrested in October following an investigation by Italian police into a Libyan-Italian racket where Libyan ‘smuggling king’ Fahmi Bin Khalifa supplied smuggled Libyan fuel to an Italian merchant using Debono’s ships.

Debono is believed to have used his fleet of fishing vessels to transport the smuggled fuel out of Libya so that it could be sold in Italian ports. The crime syndicate included Maltese businessman Gordon Debono, who was arrested in Catania, and Nicola Orazio Romeo, said to be a Siclian Mafia associate.

Sources who spoke to MaltaToday said that Debono was seen in Marsaxlokk speaking to local fishermen, as well as greeted by well-wishers in the stands at a football match since returning to Malta last week.

MaltaToday understands that Debono was under house arrest in Sicily, and was awaiting a court case to have him cleared for bail so that he could return to Malta.

Covert footage recorded by Italian investigators of Darren Debono (right) in one of his meetings sometime in 2015 with Italian business partners that include mafia associate Nicola Orazio Romeo (left)
Covert footage recorded by Italian investigators of Darren Debono (right) in one of his meetings sometime in 2015 with Italian business partners that include mafia associate Nicola Orazio Romeo (left)

Debono denies links to contraband fuel

Speaking to Report, an Italian current affairs programme on Italian station RAI3 on Monday, Debono denied any links to contraband fuel or the mafia, insisting with the journalist that he only traded in fish. Report also spoke to Gordon Debono, an associate of Debono's who was arrested on the same day. He insisted however that he could not speak because he was under house arrest

The programme interviewed a former UN official who formed part of the team drawing up annual reports on Libya. Debono’s name had appeared in a 2016 report but was not in subsequent reports.

Report suggested that the Spanish secret services must have applied pressure to have Debono’s name left out because he was aiding them in their investigations.

The US Treasury Department recently blacklisted Debono’s Valletta restaurant, which originally went by the name Scoglitti. The restaurant had been closed since Debono was arrested in Catania on charges of fuel smuggling in October last year, but reopened in April this year, having changed its name to Porticello.

The trade blacklist by the US Treasury Department’s office of foreign asset control hit Darren Debono, Gordon Debono, Rodrick Grech and Terence Micallef in a list of six individuals, 24 companies and seven vessels. They included Debono’s vessels, the Maltese companies that acted as clearing houses for the oil transhipments, as well as Scoglitti.

The €30-million fuel racket was dismantled by Italian police investigators who had been intercepting phone-calls from Darren Debono for two years. He is suspected of having been the crucial link that made possible the transportation of smuggled Libyan oil to Italian markets.

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