After foiled UN sanctions, Abela to meet Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Moscow

Russia-Malta meeting comes in the wake of foiled sanctions against Maltese fuel smugglers due to Russian objection inside UN Security Council

Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela will be meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for trade talks in the wake of Russian objections to Maltese sanctions at the United Nations Security Council against alleged fuel smugglers Darren Debono and his associates.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on the sidelines of the Eurasia Global International Youth Forum at Orenburg that Lavrov’s talks with Abela are scheduled to take place at the Russian Foreign Ministry on 20 August, in Moscow.

 “The ministers plan to discuss the current state of affairs in bilateral political dialogue and the development of trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian contacts between the two countries. They also plan to talk about a number of pressing international issues, including Russia’s cooperation with the EU, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the developments in Syria, Libya and Ukraine,” the spokesperson said.

The talks will be held in the context of a visit by Abela, also timed to the opening of the exhibit of the painting, Portrait of Catherine the Great, by Russian artist Dmitry Levitsky at the Tsaritsyno State Museum-Reserve on Sunday, 18 August. The painting comes from the collection of the Presidential Palace in Valletta.

The Times has reported government sources claiming that Abela hopes to convince the Russian government to lift its temporary block on Malta’s proposed UN sanctions against the former national team footballer Darren Debono and his business interests.

Involved in the case are also fuel trader Gordon Debono and Libyan smuggler Fahmi Slim Bin Khalifa. 

“There may be upcoming issues at EU or even UN level that the Russian government may want Malta to vote on in one way or another, and this will likely be a topic of discussion at the meeting,” the senior government source was reported as saying.

Darren Debono and Gordon Debono, who are not related, were arrested on the island of Lampedusa and Catania respectively, only a month after the arrest of Libyan smuggling king-pin, Fahmi Bin Khalifa, in September 2017.

The Maltese government told UN partners that the two men “consistently attempted to undermine the peace, stability, and security of Libya” with their involvement in the oil smuggling crime ring.

Russia had blocked the Maltese government’s attempt at placing the alleged oil smugglers on a UN sanctions list just two hours before the deadline of the procedure.

The Debonos were arrested as part of a two-year investigation nicknamed ‘Operation Dirty Oil’ by Italian police, which revealed that Darren Debono and Gordon Debono would participate in “summits” in Italy with broker Marco Porta, and then meet Bin Khalifa in Libya.

The €30 million fuel smuggling operation, which used false invoices intended to cover the origin of the Libyan oil, used Maltese ships and Italian connections to place the fuel on the market.

Malta’s attempts at securing the UN sanctions underpin the international concern over the ‘Wild West’ of oil smuggling that takes place on the territorial edge of Malta’s Hurd’s Bank, where Libyan oil is transferred onto fishing boats with large storage tanks, and is then transferred onto larger tankers.

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