Ahh, to be young and free in Dubai, especially when facing serious money laundering charges.
I’ve often wondered what became of the girl who had “the courage” to vote Labour back when Electrogas was still just a twinkle in Konrad Mizzi’s eye.
I suppose you could say Florinda Sultana went through a bit of a rough patch. What terrible luck to be charged with money laundering at the age of 29. And just when she seemed to be doing so well.
Sultana was managing several restaurants that investigators claim were being used to clean cash for a fuel smuggling operation her stepfather Darren Debono had gotten involved in with Libyan militias and Italian organized crime.
The €30 million scheme was busted by Italian investigators, who somehow keep getting the scoop on crimes happening in Malta’s backyard.
When police searched Sultana’s home, they found €52,000 in cash, an Audi A1 and luxury watches, among other clear markers of her business prowess.
US Treasury Department sanctions against Debono and his various enterprises had put a pretty big dent in that business, forcing Scoglitti restaurant in Valletta to close. It reopened again two months later as Porticello, thanks to a little presto change-o and a new sign.
This didn’t fool the Americans for very long. They updated their blacklist to include Porticello, but Malta’s brightest and best continued to dine there, including MP Rosianne Cutajar, who proudly posted her meal online.
There was just one hitch. Landing on a US sanctions list meant customers could no longer pay with Visa or other cards. The situation called for Maltese cunning, and Porticello rose to the occasion, ordering an ATM online and placing it right next to the wine cooler.
The restaurant continues to flourish to this day, apparently under court supervision, operating on a cash-only basis because no local bank will touch it.
In the meantime, Florinda Sultana, Labour’s 2013 TV advert star, is living it up in Dubai, where she’s been posting a steady stream of photos for her admirers.
Never one to let a swimsuit pic pass him by, fellow Dubai aficionado ‘Chris Cardona MP’ was quick to like a particularly tasteful shot of Sultana posing in a one-piece with the phallic silhouette of the Burj Khalifa thrusting proudly into the sky behind her.
Former Parliamentary Secretary for the Peddling of Passports Alex Muscat is also a fan.
Okay, yes, it seems like a bit of a risk to let someone charged with money laundering jet off to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Malta, especially when so much cash is involved. But Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is handling the case, and I’m sure she knows what she’s doing.
Just last week, the magistrate granted bail to Ryan Schembri after ruling that the former More supermarket owner wasn’t a criminal fugitive when he drove his Mercedes onto the ferry to Sicily and then caught a flight to Dubai in 2014, leaving over €40 million in debt behind him. I’m sure he only went to the trouble because air tickets were cheaper in Catania.
The Times of Malta tracked him down there in 2015, but he just happened to be in the midst of changing hotels. He popped up again in London and Scotland, travelling to the UK often enough that police could have nabbed him with an international arrest warrant. But I guess they were busy with other things.
He was finally extradited in April of this year after getting a speeding ticket in Scotland. He’d always intended to come back and sort things out, says his lawyer, just not right now.
Anyway, as Magistrate Frendo Dimech so clearly determined, the only reason to deny someone bail is if the court is afraid he might run away. It’s not like he’s going to sneak off to a jurisdiction that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Malta. Dubai, for example.
The first time didn’t count because he hadn’t been charged with anything yet. He may have been a fugitive, but he wasn’t technically a ‘criminal fugitive’.
The magistrate is well aware of just how important details are when it comes to money laundering. She’s also presiding over high-profile financial crime cases against Keith Schembri, Adrian Hillman, Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, among others.
Those involved can rest assured their fate is in capable hands.