The Maltese authorities were urged to bring a ring of fuel smugglers to justice to avoid being put on a grey list of countries that pose a high-risk of financial crime.

Sources told Times of Malta that the Council of Europe’s Moneyval experts as well as foreign jurisdictions assisting Malta to step up its fight on financial crime had last year urged local authorities to take action against an organised crime group involved in fuel smuggling.

Late on Wednesday police arraigned fuel trader Gordon Debono, and his wife, Yvette, who were charged with money laundering of millions of euros after a crackdown on smuggling. The couple and a third person, their business partner Shawn Higgins, were arraigned shortly after 7pm before magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo.   

It followed a series of raids by Maltese law enforcement, who arrested around a dozen people allegedly involved in operating and facilitating a fuel smuggling racket that violated international sanctions.

Two former footballers spent the night in prison on Monday after police carried out an overnight sting operation.  

On Tuesday, a court ordered a ban on the publication of names involved in the case or of the crimes they are alleged to have committed. However, the ban was only communicated to media houses on Wednesday morning, more than 24 hours after the arraignment.

Times of Malta had already published details when it broke the story on Tuesday, including names of the accused. These have since been retracted in accordance with the court order. 

The sources said others involved in the racket are expected to be charged in court with different crimes including sanctions violations, money laundering and forming part of an organised crime group. 

Meanwhile, insiders involved in a cross-agency taskforce that oversaw the investigation into the smuggling ring told Times of Malta that a group of people have been working around the clock on it for several months.

“The case that is being built is robust and comprehensive,” one source said.

The insiders acknowledged that the smuggling ring had first been identified several years ago and also they did not defend the slow pace of the investigations over the years. 

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