Malta and US denounce ‘spying’ allegation in fuel smuggling sanctions court case

Governments issue unprecedented statement on suspected fuel smuggler Darren Debono’s claims that US embassy had requested information about Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri

Both Darren Debono and Gordon Debono have filed court cases in a bid to stop the Maltese government from designating UN sanctions against them
Both Darren Debono and Gordon Debono have filed court cases in a bid to stop the Maltese government from designating UN sanctions against them

The government of Malta and the United States have issued an unprecedented statement, hitting out at allegations made in a court sitting earlier this week. 

“Any allegations... implying lack of trust in key individuals in the government, are false and have absolutely no impact on our friendship and close collaboration,” the two governments said, in an indirect reference to statements made in court by suspected fuel smuggler Darren Debono and his lawyer.

Debono this week said in court that US embassy officers had requested from him information on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and his chief of staff Keith Schembri, on incidents of refuelling of Russian ships, in exchange for leniency on American sanctions against him lifted. 

“Do you remember those two Russian ships that wanted to dock in Malta and that Malta didn’t allow to refuel? They told him to confirm whether the Prime Minister and the government took them outside territorial waters and whether he gave them fuel himself. They insisted on being given information and asked for information about the Prime Minister and Keith Schembri,” Debono’s lawyer Victor Bugeja said in court.

The two governments insisted that the countries’ bilateral relations have been consistently strong. “We work together in a very transparent and honest manner, from economic and financial engagement, to cultural and educational exchanges, political consultation, and regional security and law enforcement cooperation,” the statement read. 

Debono is facing charges in Italy after having been arrested in September 2017 for his involvement in an oil smuggling ring between Libya and Italy. Since then, his businesses have been hit by OFAC sanctions from the United States, and he has petitioned the US embassy in Malta to have the sanctions lifted.

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