Detailed information about the involvement of “a Maltese mafia” in the multimillion-euro smuggling of fuel from Libya was given to the police many years ago, the Times of Malta was told.

The information, sources said, included names of individuals, particularly Maltese, Libyan and Sicilian businessmen, the movements of two oil tankers that sailed between Malta and Libya and the location in Malta where the illegal fuel was stored.

However, they added, no arrests were made and nobody was ever arraigned.

The Italian police recently arrested Darren Debono, a former national football player turned businessman, in Lampedusa as part of the so-called dirty oil operation.

The sources noted that his name and that of others had been mentioned before and the Maltese police were well aware of it.

“It is very ironic that Mr Debono was arrested by the Italians when the alleged illicit trading was supposedly being conducted through Malta,” sources close to the police said.

The sources admitted they were surprised that it was only now that Mr Debono’s name was being bandied about, when the police, but also high-ranking politicians from both major parties, knew who the suspects were.

Sections of the media have linked the oil smuggling racket with the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The international press started speaking about the smuggling of Libyan fuel soon after the collapse of the Gaddafi regime. A UN report submitted to the Security Council last year referred to the smuggling of oil through Malta to finance militias and buy weapons. UN experts detailed the movements of ships such as the Barbosa Star and Bonu 5, managed by the ADJ Trading company, owned by Mr Debono and Fahmi Ben Khalifa.

According to UN investigators, the Barbosa Star made several trips between Libya and Malta, pumping thousands of tons of smuggled Libyan fuels directly to a fuel depot inside the Grand Harbour.

The Libyan Attorney General, Sadiq Al-Sour, again highlighted the issue earlier this year.

In a press conference announcing the issuance of arrest warrants against Libyan oil executives suspected of being involved in the illegal trade of fuel, he called for more collaboration by the Maltese authorities to stop “the smuggling of Libyan fuels by Maltese mafia”, which, he said, was “happening every day”.

“It was a known secret that Maltese businessmen were heavily involved in the smuggling… Maltese and Italian mafias are sending oil vessels on a daily basis to receive the fuel smuggled from Libya,” he said.

Both former foreign affairs minister George Vella and former home affairs minister Carmelo Abela were asked by the Times of Malta several times for their reaction to what was being alleged.

Their stock reply was that whenever they had received such reports, they immediately passed them on to the police for investigation.

Questions sent to the police have never been answered.

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