Updated 12.40pm, adds testimony

Former footballer Darren Debono was granted bail on Tuesday in the ongoing compilation of evidence over alleged money laundering.

The compilation of evidence kicked off in November following a police anti-smuggling operation.

Jeffrey Chetcuti, his fellow co-accused, had been granted bail earlier on in the proceedings.

When the case resumed on Tuesday, a line of civilian witnesses took the stand, shedding light upon various business interests of the two former footballers, including their sponsorship of a number of players at the Senglea Athletic Club.

As the session drew to an end, the prosecution informed the court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, that circumstances had changed since the defence had filed its latest request for bail on behalf of Debono.

Investigations linked to civilian witnesses had been wrapped up so there was no reason to object to bail, the prosecution explained, earning the appraisal of the court for their efficient handling of witnesses and wrapping up investigations in this regard.

In view of these submissions, the court temporarily suspended the sitting and returned shortly after with a decree whereby it upheld the request against a deposit of €50,000, a personal guarantee of €150,000, an order to sign the bail book twice a day and to abide by a curfew between 8pm and 7am.

Besides the usual conditions of depositing all travel documents and not approaching prosecution witnesses, the court also ordered Debono not to approach within 100 metres of the airport or 10 metres of the coast.

Earlier in the sitting, officials from the Senglea Athletic Club testified about the involvement of Debono and Chetcuti at the club, as sponsors, pocketing the costs of foreign players transferred to the club.

Cashier Stephen Buttigieg testified that the two ex-footballers lent a great helping hand, both financially as well as by offering advice.

Debono was never a member of the club committee but helped cover the costs of wages of foreign players and trips abroad, said the witness, explaining that monthly wages varied between €770 to €1,000 or more. 

Asked how such payments were made, he said that Debono would pay the footballers directly.

“I don’t know about that. All I know is that the players never came to us to complain.”

Buttigieg also explained that they had an auditor and accountant who regulated the income and expenses involved in the running of the club.

Questioned about a particular €70,000 sponsorship, the treasurer said that it had been paid by a company owned by Debono through two €35,000 cheques. 

Debono had paid players between August and November 2019. 

When the club applied for a tax refund on the sponsorship with Sport Malta, their application was not green-lighted. 

“Why?” asked the prosecution.

It said it looked like a lot, he said. 

The case continues in May.

Inspectors Joseph Xerri and James Turner, assisted by AG lawyers, prosecuted. 
Lawyers Giannella De Marco, Stephen Tonna Lowell, Gianluca Caruana Curran and Charles Mercieca assisted Debono and Chetcuti. 

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