Police consider fuel smuggling link to lawyer arson attack

The lawyer in question filed a case in which she is contesting an agreement hammered out between various individuals for a €2 million settlement with an Italian fuel company

Investigators are looking into a potential link between an arson attack on a lawyers car and fuel smuggling

The lawyer, Graziella Attard, was not available yesterday to comment on the arson, which took place on 16 October.

Attard filed a case in which she is contesting an agreement hammered out between various individuals for a €2 million settlement with an Italian fuel company, which also includes fuel smuggling suspect Gordon Debono, currently under arrest in Catania.

The case is against the previous owners of a fishing company, Agostino Padre, that transferred the company’s entire shareholding to her in September 2015.

The former shareholders are Joseph Azzopardi, Paul Bezzina and Albert Tabone: the latter owns a company with Italian entrepreneur Andrea D’Aloja, who was extradited to Italy in July 2015 from the Dominican Re- public, to face charges in a Mafia Capitale investigation on a €7.5 million diesel smuggling fraud.

The other defendants in the case include Gordon Debono and his companies Petro- plus Ltd – which was part of the Libyan- Maltese fuel smuggling operation recently busted by Catania police – and Eleven Eighty Eight Limited; as well as the Italian companies KB Petrols Srl, its Maltese holding company KB Petrols Ltd, and its owner Claudio La Rosa, of Catania. There is no smoking gun of wrongdoing but police investigators say they are trying to exhaust all possible avenues due to the possible links with Operation Dirty Oil, the Italian investigation that busted a €30-million fuel-smuggling syndicate in Malta, Libya and Italy.

“We are aware of the people involved in the case, and that Attard herself has yet to face proceedings related to drug trafficking charge from 2004. The investigation is open and police are carrying out the necessary inquiries,” the source said.

According to Attard’s writ to the courts, an agreement set out by Claudio La Rosa back in October 2015 was carried out “after much pressure, violence, and fraud” so that the company KB Petrols of Malta, and its Italian subsidiary, become his property after being transferred by Egyptian national Khaled Barakat.

Additionally, Agostino Padre’s then share- holders – Azzopardi, Bezzina and Tabone – declared themselves debtors of KB Italy for the sum of €1.28 million.

The case is compounded by a series of garnishee orders that La Rosa obtained against Barakat and the Agostino Padre owners and Attard for €2.5 million, and another €1.5 million garnishee order issued against Debono’s companies Petroplus and Eleven Eighty Eight.

The €1.28 million settlement was sup- posed to have led to the cancellation of the garnishee orders.

But lawyer Graziella Attard claims in her court case that when this transaction was finalised she was in position to give her consent freely. Company records show that the record of transfer of the Agostino Padre shares to Attard was submitted to the MFSA in March 2016, but the transfer was back- dated to September 2015.

Attard wants the court to declare the October 2015 settlement null and without effect.

A host of lawyers, bank representatives, as well as managers for various bunkering ships and oil tankers, have been asked to testify in the case.

Additionally, Khaled Barakat is himself filing a case against Graziella Attard, her company Agostino Padre and another of her companies, KGA Limited. He claims the companies received €2.37 million from KB Petrols Srl, of which €1.3 million had to be paid to him. The agreement, Barakat says, was not respected.

Dirty Oil suspects still under arrest

Maltese nationals Darren Debono, the former Malta international footballer, and Gordon Debono, remain under arrest in Catania after they were apprehended by Italian police on 20 October.

The two men are suspected of having been prime movers in illegal fuel oil supplied by smuggling kingpin Fahmi Slim Ben Khalifa, to Italian ports where fuel was later sold on European markets.

Ben Khalifa was arrested in August by the Tripoli militia Rada Deterrence Force. Another suspect in the smuggling ring was Nicola Orazio Romeo, whose name also appears in the Panama Papers as the holder of several offshore companies connected to Darren Debono and Gordon Debono. Romeo was said by Italian investigators to be close to the Santapaola-Ercolano mafia clan.