Gordon and Yvette Debono, the couple whose names have been linked with various allegations of crime over the past years, were charged with the laundering of millions of euro on Wednesday evening.
The charges come more than one year after The Shift’s damning report on the couple, which questioned the role of the Maltese Courts approving the suspicious transferring of a large amount of money between the pair while Gordon Debono had his assets frozen in Italy in relation to fuel smuggling charges.
In October 2019, The Shift had reported that Judge Francesco Depasquale sanctioned the release of €1.5 million to a Dubai company owned by Yvette Debono. Court documents had shown that the Dubai company, called International Properties and Investments Limited argued that it was due money – €1.5 million plus 3.5% interest – for a loan granted to a company in Belize called Oil and Ship Consultancy Limited.
The Shift discovered that the company receiving the funds – Belize called Oil and Ship Consultancy Limited – was owned by none other than her husband, Gordon.
This meant that the €1.5 million was released from a company controlled by Gordon (whose assets were meant to be frozen and the subject of sanctions) to another company in Dubai owned by his wife.
The Shift had also shown that the bulk of the money transferred to Dubai came from another Maltese oil trading company, Eninco Trading Ltd, who deposited the monies owed in Court for these to be then transferred to Dubai – net of lawyers’ fees.
Moreover, the loan agreements were created a month before Debono’s arrest in Sicily in connection with, among other things, fuel smuggling, where he was charged together with former footballer Darren Debono (no relation) and Libya militia leader Fahmi Ben Khalifa.
Their assets are subject to sanctions by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the financial intelligence and enforcement agency of the US Treasury Department.
Darren Debono was also arrested by the Maltese police on Tuesday in relation to an anti-smuggling sting operation.
On Wednesday evening, Magistrate Caroline Farrugia Frendo said that the pair appeared in their roles as directors of 11 companies, namely: Petroplus Ltd, KB Investments Ltd, KB Lines Ltd, Seabrass Ltd, Hi-Low Properties Ltd, Petrobunkers Ltd, Oil and Ship Ltd, Gorge Ltd, S-Cape Yacht Charter Ltd, S-Cape Ltd and Yves Ltd.
Gordon Debono was also individually accused in his capacity as Petroplus’ company officer (previously known as Tiko Tiko ltd), of making a false declaration to auditors, fraudulently disposing documents and destroying or falsifying official documents.
The Court issued a freezing order over all movable and immovable property belonging to the pair, as well as to the companies.
Lawyer Roberto Montalto appeared for both Gordon and Yvette Debono. During the sitting, discussing the risk of flight, Montalto argued that just because property is owned abroad it does not mean that there exist no links to Malta. He argued that the couple has young children and that they “kept all their assets in Malta”.
The Shift had reported that Montalto, together with Cypriot lawyer Ionnis Moditis each got €60,000 for their services in the 2019 case.
In a separate arraignment, Debono’s associate, Shawn Higgins was also accused of money laundering, with the prosecution arguing that he had facilitated money laundering. A freezing order was also imposed on Higgins.
All three pleaded not guilty and were not granted bail, despite it being requested.
Besides the €1.5 million, The Shift’s investigation had also pointed out that the Debonos were seeking to move another €1.3 million to Dubai in a second case. Following The Shift’s report, however, the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) intervened in the latter, and the case is still ongoing.