Updated 6.15pm, adds police statement

A court has lifted an order banning the publication of the names of two former footballers charged with money laundering and smuggling offences after a huge sting operation. 

Times of Malta revealed on Tuesday that Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti were remanded in custody as part of an investigation into an international fuel smuggling ring.

In an order on Wednesday, the court banned the publication of the former professional footballers' names and any details on the crimes they were accused of. 

It revoked the order on Thursday, after a request from the Attorney General and the police commissioner. The AG and the police said that they had originally asked for the media ban in view of the fact that "there were still a number of arrests to be made", which were "crucial for the investigation" but that it was no longer necessary after subsequent arraignments. 

On Wednesday evening, fuel trader Gordon Debono was arraigned along with his wife, Yvette, and a business partner, Shawn Higgins over money laundering offences. 

The apparent breakthrough in the case comes three years after Gordon and Darren Debono, who are not related to each other, were arrested along with Libyan militiaman Fahmi Ben Khalifa.

They were suspected of forming part of a multimillion euro international fuel smuggling conspiracy tied with the mafia and Libyan armed groups.  

Police statement

In a statement later, the police said that months of intensive investigations by the Anti-Money Laundering Section within the Financial Crime Investigations Department resulted in the arrest of 15 people in connection with money laundering.

During the operation, the police seized 36 vehicles, €60,000 in cash, a considerable amount of jewellery and designer clothes, electronic equipment including mobile phones, computers and servers and a large amount of documents, which are still being analysed.

While investigations are ongoing, five persons have already been charged with money laundering and other offences. Bail was denied and they are being held under preventive arrest at the Corradino Correctional Facility. 

The police added that 15 companies were also charged with money laundering offences. The court ordered the freezing of assets of both the people and the companies.

The investigations are being coordinated with foreign partners, including Europol, US, Italian and British counterparts, the police said.

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