A magistrate has indicted the step-daughter of ex-footballer Darren Debono and a former high-ranking bank official, declaring that there is sufficient evidence for them to stand trial for alleged money-laundering.

The ruling was delivered against Florinda Sultana and Albert Buttigieg, after criminal proceedings kicked off against them last week over their involvement in a number of commercial entities operating the Porticello - former Scoglitti- restaurant at Valletta and Capo Mulini at Marsaxlokk, both allegedly involved in laundering funds linked to oil smuggling.

The two had first been targeted by search and arrest warrants late in 2020  during an extensive anti-smuggling police operation which led to the arrest and subsequent arraignment of former footballers Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti, as well as auditor Chris Baldacchino and fuel trader Gordon Debono, who are all pleading not guilty.

Architect Daniel Micallef, one of the directors heading the architecture and design branch at XYZ Ltd, testified about the various planning applications the firm had submitted on behalf of the Valletta restaurant that had commissioned its professional services “for the past eight years.” 

Asked by the prosecution who had handled communication on behalf of the restaurant, Micallef said that it was normally Debono or Sultana, whom he identified in court.

A Planning Authority representative presented a number of documents relative to the two restaurants, including an application in 2020 by Buttigieg, on behalf of Luzzu Catering Ltd in relation to Capo Mulini, which had been suspended.

Melania Brincat, Sultana’s cousin, who worked at World Water Fisheries Ltd up to 2017, confirmed that the company was run by Darren Debono and explained that her job was to handle fish deliveries to hotels, shops and others catering establishments.

The witness said that her husband, Jermain Brincat, worked part-time at Capo Mulini under the ownership of Buttigieg, whom she also saw occasionally at her San Gwann office where he turned up to help with bank-related matters.

Asked about Wave Catering Ltd, the witness replied, “I don’t know. I think they took over Scoglitti.”

Asked about a particular Marsaxlokk address, Brincat said that it was the address of a flat which she had personally viewed on behalf of Buttigieg who requested her help to check if the place “was ok.”

He wanted to rent the flat for employees at his restaurant and Darren Debono had contacted an estate agency to lend a hand.

Her husband, Jermain, who used to work at the Marsaxlokk restaurant on part-time basis, also testified explaining that he used to handle marketing, bookings and seating, alongside his brother who was employed as chef.

He also stepped in at Scoglitti to lend a hand when the need arose, but he did that “as a favour,” Brincat said.

Asked about end-of-day closure of covers, the witness explained how totals were worked out, sometimes based on an “average.”

But that reply prompted further questioning by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech who asked what he meant by “average.”

Customers were sometimes counted on average “in the rush,” recording only the adult members of a group but not the children, the witness explained.

Daily cash takings were placed in a sealed envelope at the end of each day and handed over to Buttigieg.

As the hearing drew to an end, the court declared that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for both accused to stand trial.

The case continues.

Inspectors Joseph Xerri, James Turner and Omar Caruana are prosecuting, assisted by AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Martina Cuschieri are defence counsel.

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