Trial International, a non governmental organisation fighting impunity for international crimes, has filed a criminal complaint against Swiss trader Kolmar Group AG, a company which allegedly used Malta to store fuel smuggled from war torn Libya.
The criminal complaint filed for complicity in theft was based on findings in a joint report published on 2 March by Trial International and Public Eye.
In 2014 and 2015, the Zug-based company purchased more than 50,000 tonnes of smuggled gasoil from Libya and stored it in Malta.
The investigation looked into the transnational network of subsidised gasoil smuggling from Libya. It found that the fuel was diverted from Libyan tanks with the complicity of an armed group, transhipped from Libyan fishing boats to larger vessels chartered by two Maltese businessmen in international waters, and finally transported to Malta, according to the report’s findings.
Asked by The Shift to name the Maltese businessmen, the organisation confirmed it was Darren Debono and Gordon Debono (unrelated). The two Maltese nationals were arrested in Italy back in October 2017 and charged with oil smuggling between Libya, Sicily and Malta.
The international organisation said these purchases could constitute complicity in war crimes.
“There were a significant number of indicators, all of which were in the red, which should have deterred Kolmar from carrying out these transactions. We believe that the evidence gathered warrants an investigation by the (Swiss) Office of the Attorney General to determine whether Kolmar willfully ignored such signals”, Trial International’s Executive Director Philip Grant said.
If a company knowingly buys stolen raw materials from a country at war it may be found guilty of complicity in pillage – a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as under Swiss criminal law.
“Several individuals involved in the smuggling operation are currently on trial in Italy,” the organisation said.
In a right of reply by the company requested published on 2 April on the NGO’s website, Kolmar never denied the purchase of 50,000 tonnes of fuel.
Investigations showed that Darren Debono and Gordon Debono, together with other Libyan and Sicilian individuals, ran a complex oil and diesel smuggling operation.
The Italian prosecutor in what is known as the Dirty Oil investigation had lamented at the time of the arrest that the Maltese authorities were too slow to act. Trial International and Public Eye note that the Dirty Oil investigation had stopped at the Italian borders and only covered a short period of time, from June 2015 to June 2016.
“As a result, a chapter of the story was left in the dark: Kolmar’s adventures in Malta and the Zug-based company’s collaboration with Ben Khalifa’s network starting in the spring of 2014.”
Darren Debono and Gordon Debono have never faced charges in Malta, and The Shift even revealed that Gordon Debono was using offshore companies to transfer frozen assets to his wife through the Maltese courts – in breach of sanctions by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the US Treasury Department.
In a previous report published in March 2020, Trail International identified how Kolmar made business with “an obscure Maltese company with no experience in the oil sector” and how the oil companies knew “the role that Malta played in the business”.
“While Kolmar was active in Malta, the Maltese authorities accepted them without batting an eyelid”, reads the investigation report titled ‘A Swiss Trader Sailing Through Troubled Waters’.
The NGO quoted a connoisseur of these practices in Malta who confirmed that “despite their illicit Libyan origin, the customs authorities and the Libyan-Maltese chamber of commerce gave the green light to the re-export of the gasoil, either because they were incompetent or because they were also involved in the fraud.”
Speaking to The Shift, the NGO said that investigators have contacted the Maltese customs over the findings but never received a reply.