Two Libyan men and five companies allegedly involved in a €20 million money laundering case, all have a case to answer, a magistrate has decreed.

The decree was delivered by Magistrate Gabriella Vella on Wednesday against Hesham Zayed, Essam Mohamed Edernawi and their companies P.H.F. Ltd, U.G.T. Company Ltd, Express Route Company Ltd, HZ Medical Equipment and Health Services Company Ltd and H&H Investments Ltd.

The two men were arrested along with two fellow nationals Khaled Baely and Hdidan Tamer Ramadan Ali in an operation by the police Anti Money Laundering Squad acting on intelligence received in May 2020.

According to that information, a number of Libyan nationals having Maltese citizenship were declaring substantial amounts of cash with customs authorities at Malta International Airport.

Investigators moved in on the suspects, seizing luxury cars and cash.

Zayed and Edernawi, in their personal capacity and on behalf of the companies they represented, were charged with money laundering, unlicensed banking and financial activities as well as involvement in a criminal conspiracy.

Zayed, whom investigators described as the “leader of a criminal organisation” involved in transferring millions of euros from Malta to Istanbul, was separately charged with receiving stolen goods and evading VAT.

All pleaded not guilty but while the defence said that there could be a case to answer against both accused in their personal capacity, there was certainly no case to answer in respect of the companies they represented.

But Magistrate Vella did not agree with the defence’s argument that the companies could not perform acts of money laundering, pointing out that such companies were not to be considered “in isolation.”

Based on the detailed testimony of investigating Inspector Keith Mallan, there was clearly a connection between these companies and Zayed who was not simply “just any person” but was allegedly “leader” of a criminal organization involved in transferring millions in cash which allegedly were derived from crime.

In light of the prosecution’s testimonies so far and particularly Inspector Mallan’s own testimony based on his case notes, the court observed that up to February 17, Zayed had declared a total of €20,700,000.

No withdrawals had been recorded from Zayed’s bank accounts nor those of his associates.

Between 2015 and 2021 one of Zayed’s bank accounts registered a turnover of €1.2 million, cash deposits of €639,305 and €254,930 deposited through three Swift Transfers from a Turkish account.

More funds had flowed through other local bank accounts including one at Satabank.

Although having lived in Malta for years, Zayed was not registered as employed and did not receive any social benefits.

Yet both he and his Maltese wife had appeared as parties on some 40 public deeds concerning transfer of immovable properties.

Moreover, since 2015 Zayed had 21 vehicles registered in his name, while his wife, though not in employment, owned several cars including two Mercedes vehicles, an Audi Q7 and a Mini Cooper.

Between 2016 and 2018 Zayed had submitted no income tax returns and his VAT returns for the same period read ‘0,’ although his bank accounts had registered deposits adding up to some €580,000.

In light of this, the court concluded that both accused as well as their companies had a prima facie case to answer, also shooting down the defence’s argument that the predicate offence underlying the money laundering charge had not yet been established.

The case continues.

Lawyers Franco Debono, Arthur Azzopardi, Mario Buttigieg, Mario Mifsud and Christian Camilleri are defence counsel.

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