The Malta Independent 16 April 2024, Tuesday
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Fuel companies were not questioned by police during Darren Debono oil smuggling probe

Monday, 7 February 2022, 14:06 Last update: about 2 years ago

The fuel companies that transferred millions to Darren Debono and Jeffrey Chetcuti’s businesses were not questioned by police during investigations, the court heard on Monday.

Monday’s short hearing saw Inspector Omar Caruana cross-examined by the defence on his role in the investigation. Caruana explained his focus was on bank statements – he flagged several suspicious transactions flowing from several fuel companies into businesses owned by Jeffrey Chetcuti and Debono.

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Caruana explained that oil and fuel transactions are high-risk in and of themselves. But apart from this, he noted that the transactions were flowing into companies unrelated to the oil and fuel industry, raising further suspicion during investigations.

Lawyer Giannella De Marco questioned him on his role in the investigation. “Did you speak to any of these companies?” she asked, in reference to the fuel companies mentioned by Caruana.

“Not from my side. We were two teams in one office working on a single investigation,” he explained. “It could be that my colleagues spoke to them.”

Demarco went on to ask Caruana whether Darren Debono had declared the purpose for the transactions with his bank. He clarified that this was not always the case, explaining that thousands were sometimes withdrawn from the bank in cash.

“When a lot of money is withdrawn you lose the trail,” he said.

“Did you check if the cash was declared at customs when it moved to another country?” De Marco asked. She said that there were several customs declarations.

“I don’t have this information, but if money is withdrawn as cash and that money is declared, there’s no way of checking that the money withdrawn is the money declared,” he continued.

De Marco asked if any comparison was made, and Caruana said that this was not within his remit.

The lawyer continued to ask about the company ownership of Oceano Blu Trading, one of the companies implicated in the complex oil smuggling scheme. The company is based at Debono’s San Ġwwann address, and bank statements for Oceano Blu indicate that a Swiss company transferred over $11 million to the company across 11 transfers between June and July 2015.

“You mentioned in your testimony that Oceano Blu Trading Ltd is a company belonging to Jeffrey and Darren. Where did you get this information from?” De Marco asked.

Caruana said that he got this information from the Malta Business Registry. However, De Marco rebutted and said that Darren Debono was never a shareholder, nor the ultimate beneficial owner, of Oceano Blu Trading. She instead asked to see the relevant registration documents that confirm whether or not Debono was a shareholder in the company.

The testimony pivoted back to the cash transfers. De Marco pressed Caruana on why the source companies of the transactions weren’t questioned during the investigation. He mentioned that San Lucian Oil Company transferred €1.37 million to Oceano Blu.

“Then why didn’t you ask San Lucian Oil Company about the transaction?” De Marco remarked.

Caruana went on to explain that his role in the investigation was simply to examine the transactions and highlight which ones were suspicious. He let the other members of the investigative team to look into the suspicious transactions in more depth.

But the defence adds that Caruana was part of the prosecution and even asked questions during police statements given by the accused.

Attorney General lawyer Antoine Agius Bonnici commented that questions on the suspicious nature of the transactions would be better answered by police inspector James Turner, who was similarly part of the investigation. The defence and prosecution agreed to suspend cross-examination to next week so that Turner could testify first.

The next hearing will take place on 16 February at 11am.

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