The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

Banks refused to allow restaurants linked to money laundering allegations to have accounts

Tuesday, 15 June 2021, 15:40 Last update: about 3 months ago

The magistrate presiding over the money laundering case against restauranteurs Florinda Sultana and Albert Buttigieg, of Capo Mulini, has heard a court-appointed administrator explain that no local bank had been willing to allow Sultana to operate an account.

Sultana and Buttigieg are the subjects of criminal proceedings filed over their involvement in a number of companies operating the Porticello – formerly Scoglitti, a restaurant in Valletta – and Capo Mulini at Marsaxlokk. Both restaurants are alleged to be linked to the laundering of money from oil smuggling.

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The pair had been the subjects of search warrants and were arrested last year during a large-scale police anti-smuggling operation which led to the arraignments of ex-footballers Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti, together with auditor Chris Baldacchino and fuel trader Gordon Debono.

All accused are denying the charges.

The administrator was appointed to take stock of MS1 Catering, a holding company for Sultana's restaurant, Porticello. The restaurant was operating on a cash-only basis, as no local bank would open an account for the company.

“There is no bank account for the company in Malta… None of the banks want to allow them to have an account with them as they are subject to FIAU investigations and [the banks] don’t want problems,” the administrator said, asking the court for guidance on how to handle the situation.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, appearing for the accused, said the situation was partially the fault of the State, for “putting people’s backs to the wall”.

“Now that it did all that it could to stop the restaurants’ operations, it was creating obstacles for them to be administered,” he said.

The court, however, also observed that the administrator had not stuck to his remit and had engaged staff to assist him. This was not allowed as it simply increased costs.

Also testifying today were eight restaurant staff members, who recognised Buttigieg as the boss, although they didn’t know who the restaurant belonged to. The staff members would be paid by bank transfer from Buttigieg’s company Luzzu Catering or sometimes, in cash, they said.

In a previous sitting, another court-appointed expert had reported finding around 14,000 photos from a camera hidden in a women’s bathroom on Buttigieg’s electronic devices. This morning, the Court pointed out that it had never said they were taken at the restaurant, or that they were taken by Buttigieg. The photos were of people in a toilet, it said, but no evidence had been brought to show which toilet they were taken from.

The case continues on July 19.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Martina Cuschieri appeared for the accused. The prosecution is being led by Inspector Joseph Xerri, James Turner and Omar Caruana. They were assisted by lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango from the Office of the Attorney General.

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