Suspected money laundering operations involving Maltese and foreign nationals in Malta are being investigated in connection with the ‘dirty oil’ smuggling racket, the Times of Malta has learnt.
Sources said Italian authorities had reached out to their Maltese counterparts and EU agencies to collaborate in investigations into suspected money laundering operations that were used to ‘clean’ the proceeds of a highly lucrative Italy-Libya diesel smuggling ring.
The sources said companies linked to Maltese nationals in Malta and Italy were among those believed to be connected to the smuggling racket that was uncovered in a recent sting operation.
“These are companies that may appear to have nothing to do with fuel smuggling on the face of it but we believe may have been set up for the sole purpose of money laundering,” the sources said.
Earlier this month, judicial authorities in Sicily ordered the arrest of eight men and a woman, including two Maltese nationals, who were suspected of association with a racket that saw Libyan contraband fuel being sold in Europe.
The two Maltese suspects are ex-Malta international football player Darren Debono and entrepreneur Gordon Debono, both 43.
The Italian investigators suspect they may have been involved in the transportation and logistical arrangements in the smuggling operation.
The others are being investigated over their possible involvement in the refinery and bunkering aspects of the operation.
The sources said that individuals who had not yet been arrested were “of interest” and investigations about their possible involvement were ongoing.
“This is a wide-ranging operation and there are obviously many people involved, more than those mentioned so far. Crime like this requires a number of different players to facilitate it,” the sources said.
According to Italian prosecutors, the fuel was being exported illegally from Zawyia and bunkered on Hurd’s Bank, a few kilometres off the Maltese coast.
About 80 million kilos of fuel worth approximately €30 million are believed to have been shipped to Italy from Libya via Malta in 30 tanker trips. The recent sting operation is not the first time the racket hit the headlines.
Last year, a United Nations report delved into the organised criminal activity. Among those mentioned in the report was Libyan Fahmi Ben Khalifa, who co-owned ADJ trading with the former Maltese footballer and an Egyptian man.
The UN report linked Mr Khalifa, who is also known as Fahmi Salim “the kingpin”, to two vessels involved in the fuel smuggling operation.
The sources told this newspaper that he was not the only foreign national suspected of having made use of Malta-based companies to facilitate the racket.
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