“Dirty money remains a problem for Malta” – Sanctions Council

Once the dirty money is introduced to the island, it remains a problem for the jurisdiction, the chairman of Malta’s Sanctions Supervisory Board told a court yesterday.

Neville Aquilina, chairman of the Sanctions Oversight Board, presented three United Nations reports to the tribunal gathering evidence against Pierre-Paul Debono, former director of World Water Fisheries.

Not only are the defendants mentioned in the reports, but many others, the witness said. The UN panel of experts says Maltese ships and companies are also involved in smuggling Libyan resources in violation of UN sanctions.

Pierre-Paul Debono pleads not guilty to the counts of money laundering between 2014 and 2016 while he temporarily held the position of director in the company of his brother Darren Debono, World Water Fisheries.

He also denies knowingly or negligently making false statements to auditors, destroying, altering or falsifying documents and breaking laws.

Debono’s brother is former Maltese international footballer Darren Debono, who is also charged with fuel smuggling and money laundering in separate proceedings.

“These are reports compiled by a panel of UN experts,” Aquilina told magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras on Tuesday. Giving a brief overview of the UN framework, he explained that the Security Council gives orders to member countries and can order military action or other sanctions in the event of default. The UN Sanctions Committee uses a panel of 8 experts to verify that the sanctions are implemented.

The court heard how former US President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2016, prohibiting Americans from engaging with those under UN sanctions and freezing any related property under US jurisdiction.

The sanctions targeted people from Libya, Malta and Egypt for “participating in the smuggling of petroleum products from Libya to Europe”.

A relevant section of a 2016 report reads as follows:

“Zuwarah’s smuggled fuel comes from the Zawiyah refinery, which refines crude oil received from other Libyan terminals. Zawiyah also receives refined products from abroad stored there. The fuel is then distributed to local suppliers, but significant quantities are also sold to smugglers.

“Fuel smugglers sail south of Malta up to 40 to 60 nautical miles off the Libyan coast, where they deactivate the automated identification system. After loading, they return to Malta. The ships remain adrift at least 12 nautical miles from the coast, outside Maltese territorial waters, while they unload the fuel on other vessels which transport it to the coast.

Once the dirty money is brought to the island, it remains a problem for the jurisdiction, Aquilina said.

Cross-examined by the defense lawyer, Me Franco Debono, the witness was asked if Pierre-Paul Debono was mentioned in the documents. “I don’t know about [Pierre-Paul] Debono, but ADJ trading companies, World Water Fisheries, are among those mentioned. The witness could not say if Pierre-Paul Debono was mentioned by name but confirmed that Darren Debono, his brother, was.

Debono directly asked the witness what the punishment was for violating the sanctions. “I don’t think a country can fail to apply UN sanctions,” Aquilina replied.

When Pierre-Paul Debono was indicted, a request for a freezing order was withdrawn by the prosecution, a gesture hailed by the defense for its “sense of justice and practicality”.

The case continues in January.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Marion Camilleri are defense lawyers.

Inspectors Joseph Xerri, James Turner and Omar Caruana are continuing, assisted by lawyers from AG Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango and Antoine Agius Bonnici.

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