Auditor Chris Baldacchino has been remanded in custody after being arraigned over charges of money laundering linked to a multi-million euro fuel smuggling racket.
Baldacchino entered a plea of not guilty on Monday morning to charges of being the brains behind the laundering of illicit funds for an organised criminal group allegedly involved in fuel smuggling.
Following a break in proceedings, Magistrate Ian Farrugia said he had taken into consideration the seriousness of the charges and the fact that a number of witnesses still had to testify. He denied bail.
Last year Chris Baldacchino & Associates was fined some €58,000 for lax anti-money laundering controls that could have “possibly led the firm to be used and abused by money-launderers to bypass checks that would otherwise have been carried out”.
The financial advisory firm is alleged to have been involved in a €30 million fuel smuggling ring out of Libya allegedly operated by former international footballer Darren Debono and his associates Gordon Debono (no relation).
The racket is believed to have links to Libyan militia groups and the Italian mafia.
The two Debonos have been in preventative arrest ever since they were charged with a slew of offences and denied bail last Novemeber.
Some 10 people were arrested last year in connection with an investigation into the racket. They included high-profile lawyer Arthur Azzopardi who was released and has not been charged with any offence to date.
Chris Baldacchino & Associates offered corporate services to ADJ Trading, a company that wound up on the US Treasury sanctions listed along with a network of other companies and individuals allegedly involved in the smuggling ring.
The company used to be owned or controlled by former national team footballer Debono, an alleged Libyan smuggler Fahmi Ben Khalifa and Egyptian-Maltese citizen Ahmed Ibra-him Hassan Arafa.
Baldacchino also audited Oceano Blu Trading, a company that used to be controlled by Italian national Nicola Orazio Romeo, who was also implicated in the ring.
Freezing order request upheld
During Monday morning’s sitting, lawyer Antoine Agius Bonnici from the State Prosecutor’s office said the case involves a number of people and large amounts of money from criminal activity - money that was then filtered into the country’s commercial system through irregular means.
A request for a freezing order on Balddacino was upheld by magistrate Farrugia, who ordered the accused and his family have access to some €13,000 of his funds for daily needs.
Defence lawyer Antoine Naudi summoned Inspector Omar Caruana from the Financial Crime Investigation Department who briefly testified that investigations had started in April 2020.
The accused was arrested in November and has been interrogated a number of times.
Baldacchino, the inspector said, had never given the impression he intended to flee the country and he had no knowledge of any tampering with evidence or witnesses by the accused.
The prosecution, on the other hand, argued that there are still several civilian witnesses to be summoned in the case and other people to be charged in connection with the case.
Baldacchino, the prosecution said, had been acting as an auditor and so had an obligation to stop money laundering. Instead, he appeared to have been the brains behind it the opening of companies, and the recycling of corporate directors.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us