The police were caught unawares when the US Treasury named former footballer Darren Debono and three other Maltese in a new round of sanctions targeting oil smugglers in Libya, sources within the force said.

Former pro footballer Darren DebonoFormer pro footballer Darren Debono

“We did not know these sanctions would be issued. The American authorities did not make any contact with us over the matter,” they admitted.

The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday issued economic sanctions aimed at blocking the exploitation of natural resources driving instability in Libya.

It said it was sanctioning six people, 24 companies and seven vessels to prohibit Americans from engaging with those targeted and freeze any related property under US jurisdictions.

Darren Debono, Gordon Deb-ono, Roderick Grech, Fahmi Ben Khalifa, Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan Arafa and Terence Micallef were listed because of their alleged involvement in the smuggling of petroleum products from Libya to Europe.

The action also targets 21 companies the US says are owned or controlled by Darren Debono and Gordon Debono and another three companies that are suspected of being involved in the illicit exploitation of crude oil or any other natural resources in Libya, including the illicit production, refining, brokering, sale, purchase or export of Libyan oil.

The police sources said they would be reaching out to the US authorities involved to enquire about any new information coming to light.

“If they know something we don’t, then perhaps there is room for new investigations into the matter,” they said. Accordingto the US authorities, the two Debonos, in 2016, formed an unofficial consortium to smuggle fuel from Zuwara, Libya, to Malta and Italy in an operation reportedly worth over €30 million.

Questions sent to the police communications office yesterday on whether any of the Malta-based companies mentioned had been investigated were unanswered at the time of writing.

The sources noted that the bulk of the irregularities allegedly committed by those named in the sanctions were not believed to be linked to Malta.

“It is our understanding that the majority of the crimes they are alleged to have committed involved Italian-based companies and not Maltese ones,” they pointed out.