Ital­ians make an­other ar­rest, seize 55 mil­lion in as­sets €

Over 350 mil­lion litres of Mal­tas­mug­gled Libyan fuel in two years alone ●

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DIRTY OIL - David Lind­say Dar­ren De­bono Gor­don De­bono

The Ital­ian author­i­ties made an­other ar­rest on Fri­day and seized €55 mil­lion in as­sets linked to the Dirty Oil in­ves­ti­ga­tion in which Mal­tese na­tion­als Dar­ren De­bono and Gor­don De­bono were ar­rested last Oc­to­ber.

An Ital­ian re­sid­ing in Lon­don, named as 51-year-old An­to­nio De­si­ata, has been ar­rested and as­sets in the form of 29 mil­lion litres of fuel, 11 prop­er­ties in Genoa, Tri­este and Ab­bi­ate­grasso and a 14-me­tre yacht were seized. They are part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has un­cov­ered a racket of fuel smug­gled out of the mostly law­less Libya, to Malta and then on­ward to Italy.

Ital­ian pros­e­cu­tors al­lege that be­tween 2016 and 2017 over 350 mil­lion litres of fuel were smug­gled from Malta to Italy via 30 voy­ages car­ried out by Mal­tese tankers owned by the De­bonos, which were resold at a cut price on the Ital­ian ‘white pump’ mar­ket later.

Fri­day’s ac­tion saw the Guardia di Fi­nanza of Varese car­ry­ing out an order for the pre-trial de­ten­tion of De­si­ata and the si­mul­ta­ne­ous seizure of as­sets worth over €55 mil­lion or­dered by the Courts of Mi­lan at the re­quest of Mi­lan’s Pub­lic Prose­cu­tor.

The Mi­lan Pub­lic Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice be­lieves it has dis­cov­ered the il­licit im­por­ta­tion and

sale in Italy of over 350 mil­lion litres of fuel, amount­ing to VAT losses of €55 mil­lion for the Trea­sury. It has ar­rested De­si­ata, from Tri­este, in his ca­pac­ity as the de facto ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Rome-based Oilchem srl and of the Mi­lan-based Xcel Petroleum – com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing in the whole­sale of petroleum prod­ucts. He is be­ing charged with in­ter­na­tional VAT fraud on a mas­sive scale.

Mi­lan pros­e­cu­tors have ac­cused him of fraud on the in­ter­na­tional ex­ten­sion of VAT in the fuel-trad­ing sec­tor, the is­suance and use of in­voices for non-ex­is­tent op­er­a­tions, the de­struc­tion and con­ceal­ment of ac­count­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion and with money laun­der­ing.

The fuel in ques­tion was sourced from Libya and ar­rived in Italy via a Mal­tese ship owner’s tanker, who was un­named but was said to have been ar­rested in Oc­to­ber 2017 as part of the ‘Dirty Oil’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That would un­doubt­edly be Dar­ren De­bono and/or Gor­don De­bono.

The fuel was sub­se­quently dis­trib­uted, with false in­voices, be­tween the var­i­ous front com­pa­nies be­long­ing to the racket in favour of com­mer­cial de­pots and road­side distrib­u­tors be­long­ing to the so-called ‘white pumps’ cir­cuit scat­tered through­out Italy, i.e. ser­vice sta­tions not be­long­ing to the ma­jor petrol brands.

The can­cel­la­tion of VAT through­out the sup­ply chain has al­legedly al­lowed the sale of fuel on the Ital­ian mar­ket at prices much lower than those charged by com­peti­tors, creat­ing an ef­fect of un­fair com­pe­ti­tion.

Among the other sus­pects are the le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Oilchem srl – Lorenzo Sassi and Lu­ciano Seregni – and of Xcel Petroleum – An­gelo Ia­cobino – and ac­coun­tant Lu­ciano Bologna. The lat­ter is a pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing con­tracts at the Univer­sity La Sapienza in Rome, a for­mer tax judge, and an at­tor­ney.

The Guardia di Fi­nanza of Varese and Mi­lan prose­cu­tor Paolo Filip­pini have iden­ti­fied Xcel Petroleum srl as, “The main ben­e­fi­ciary of the un­due tax ad­van­tages ob­tained through fic­ti­tious in­ter­po­si­tions of front com­pa­nies” such as the Oilchem srl, which, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors had no staff, its premises had no ad­dress plates, had no fur­ni­ture and only one com­puter, and was lo­cated in a 15 square me­tre cav­ity ad­ja­cent to an el­e­va­tor in a shop­ping cen­tre.

The in­ves­ti­gat­ing judge wrote: “De­si­ata’s com­pany, buy­ing at a value sig­nif­i­cantly lower than its com­peti­tors, was able to con­quer the na­tional sup­ply mar­ket through the sys­tem­atic eva­sion of VAT.”

The op­er­a­tion, dubbed, ‘XP’ – con­ducted with tele­phone in­ter­cep­tions, searches, seizures, anal­y­sis of com­puter me­dia, bank checks and ac­count­ing records – al­lowed in­ves­ti­ga­tors to place the Mi­lan com­pany op­er­at­ing from Genoa at the cen­tre of the fraud as the main ben­e­fi­ciary of the il­le­gal tax ad­van­tages ob­tained through the fic­ti­tious in­ter­po­si­tions of com­pa­nies that had no con­crete role in the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of the prod­uct.

Among the as­sets seized so far by the Varese Guardia di Fi­nanza are about 29 mil­lion litres of fuel (gaso­line and diesel fuel with an es­ti­mated com­mer­cial value of over €44 mil­lion), 11 build­ings in Genoa, Tri­este and Ab­bi­ate­grasso, a car, a mo­tor­cy­cle, a 14me­tre yacht seized in Civ­i­tavec­chia and cur­rent ac­counts worth over €1.3 mil­lion.

Dar­ren and Gor­don De­bono still elec­tron­i­cally tagged, on bail and pre­vented from leav­ing Italy

Two of the Mal­tese ac­cused in Italy of the ‘Dirty Oil’ scan­dal, Dar­ren De­bono and Gor­don De­bono, who over­saw the smug­gling of tens of mil­lions of eu­ros of con­tra­band fuel from Libya to Europe via Malta, are still out on bail af­ter their ar­rest in Italy in Oc­to­ber last year.

Ital­ian po­lice sources, speak­ing to this news­pa­per, have con­firmed that the two Mal­tese na­tion­als have, since their re­lease on bail, had elec­tronic tag­ging de­vices af­fixed to their wrists and are pre­vented from leav­ing Ital­ian soil.

Such a ma­chine gives the cur­rent lo­ca­tion of peo­ple fit­ted with the de­vice, and sets off alarm bells if the wearer ven­tures out­side the area to which he is con­fined.

Be­tween June 2015 and June 2016, Ital­ian author­i­ties reg­is­tered 31 il­le­gal ship­ments of con­tra­band fuel, com­pris­ing 82 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres of petrol they be­lieve was pur­chased for €27 mil­lion and was worth €51 mil­lion on the mar­ket. €11 mil­lion in taxes are be­lieved to have been evaded in that process.

Last Oc­to­ber, af­ter two years of phone tap­ping, the Ital­ian author­i­ties moved in on the De­bonos. Dar­ren De­bono was ap­pre­hended in Lampe­dusa and Gor­don De­bono was ar­rested in Cata­nia.

The Daphne Project had re­cently re­ported that the Libya-Malta-Europe fuel smug­gling ring run by the De­bonos, to­gether with Libyan and Si­cil­ian as­so­ciates linked to the Mafia, earned the op­er­a­tion up to €26 mil­lion in just one year through a sin­gle Ital­ian buyer. It is not known if that buyer was De­si­ata or an­other one as the dates of the ship­ments ap­pear to over­lap but do not ex­actly co­in­cide. This could mean there were mul­ti­ple chan­nels in Italy for the il­licit Libyan fuel smug­gled through Malta.

The Daphne Project had sourced hun­dreds of Ital­ian po­lice files, cor­po­rate doc­u­ments, marine data and United Na­tions re­ports, and cor­rob­o­ra­tive in­ter­views have been car­ried out by the In­ves­tiga­tive Re­port Project Italy (IRPI).

The re­sults re­port­edly show a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar op­er­a­tion was “car­ried out un­der Mal­tese author­i­ties’ noses”.

In re­sponse to ques­tions about the leaked files and the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion, the Mal­tese po­lice are quoted as say­ing that they could do noth­ing about the op­er­a­tion be­cause the smug­gling took place out­side Malta’s ter­ri­to­rial waters.

The Ital­ian po­lice, how­ever, be­lieve this not to be en­tirely true, as tankers filled in Libya made ship-to-ship trans­fers at the edge of Hurd’s Bank, a shal­low area on the pe­riph­ery of Mal­tese ter­ri­to­rial waters – un­der Malta’s re­mit.

The Daphne Project had re­ported how marine sur­veil­lance logs showed tankers owned by the De­bonos – in­clud­ing the Bar­bosa Star, Sea Master X and Amaz­ing F – be­ing ob­served ei­ther trans­fer­ring il­le­gal ship­ments onto larger tankers at Hurd’s Bank or di­rectly emp­ty­ing their ship­ments at a dol­phin in the Marsa area of the Grand Har­bour. It is be­lieved that the dol­phin, through which the fuel is pumped on­shore, was con­nected to the Ħas-Sap­tan stor­age fa­cil­i­ties, re­port­edly leased to the Swiss Kol­mar Group AG.

The Daphne Project re­ports go on to say that the same marine sur­veil­lance logs show the tankers emp­ty­ing fuel into the stor­age tanks of the Mal­tese San Lu­cian Oil Com­pany in Birżeb­buġa.

The play­ers

Ital­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tors, it is said, be­lieve that Libyan fuel was smug­gled out of the coun­try with the as­sis­tance of a mili­tia led by Fahmi Ben Khal­ifa, a busi­ness as­so­ciate of Dar­ren De­bono.

Oil re­finer­ies near the port city of Zuwara, in north­west­ern Libya, are be­lieved to have been un­der Ben Khal­ifa’s con­trol, al­low­ing the di­ver­sion of tankers filled with re­fined diesel to Libyan ports.

The Daphne Project says that fish­ing boats con­tain­ing large stor­age tanks were taken out to sea, while smaller tankers owned by the De­bonos would wait for ship-to-ship trans­fers.

Ital­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­port­edly iden­ti­fied many such tankers in­volved in the op­er­a­tion. Fuel then made its way to main­land Europe through more con­ven­tional chan­nels.

Ital­ian in­ves­ti­ga­tors are said to have found a third chan­nel through which Libya’s smug­gled oil was moved through Malta. Through wire-tap­ping, Ital­ian law en­force­ment is said to have dis­cov­ered how ships owned by the De­bonos were used to un­load smug­gled fuel to a vessel at sea af­ter which the small tankers were quickly sent back to Libya.

A vessel owned by the De­bonos ap­pears to have op­er­ated as a float­ing fuel sta­tion in Malta’s ter­ri­to­rial waters.

One of the De­bonos’ ships in Grand Har­bour

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malta

© PressReader. All rights reserved.