Sunday, October 21, 2018

"Death in a Smugglers’ Paradise"

Part of the Daphne Project from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, May 3, 2018:

The car bomb that killed Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia last year was detonated from a boat in the Grand Harbor near Valletta, the country’s capital, investigators say.
Despite three arrests in connection with the reporter’s killing six months ago, the ultimate motive remains unclear. Sources close to the investigation into her death told the Times of Malta that she had been looking into “the involvement of Maltese parties in a fuel-smuggling operation that included Libyan traffickers and Sicilian organized crime.”

In her blog, Running Commentary, Caruana Galizia had written that Malta’s underworld was becoming more violent, noting “an emerging pattern in which diesel smugglers are blown up by bombs in their car(s) while drug traffickers are shot by hitmen.”

Now 18 news organizations from 15 countries, including the Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI), a partner of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), have joined together to complete her work as part of the Daphne Project. The collaboration was organized by Forbidden Stories.

IRPI reporters have focused on a major Italian police investigation into how two unlikely partners — a beloved Maltese footballer and a Libyan militia chief — enlisted help from a man connected to the Sicilian mafia to develop a multi-million-euro business smuggling Libyan diesel throughout the Mediterranean.

Hundreds of Italian Financial Police files, corporate documents, and U.N. reports, as well as marine traffic data and corroborating interviews, paint a picture of how a modern fuel smuggling operation arose in Malta in the aftermath of Libya’s chaotic collapse in 2011.

The story of ambition, greed, and treachery illuminates how the Mediterranean fishing industry has become entwined with the far more profitable business of fuel smuggling. The profits the partners raked in from Turkey, Spain, Italy, and other destinations — as well as from Malta itself — remain unknown. But according to Italian authorities, the group made at least €26 million selling to just one Italian buyer.

In the end, the Maltese footballer, his Libyan partner, and two of their confederates were arrested, while a fifth man closely involved has not been charged and remains free in Malta.
Meanwhile, the drain on the Libyan nation continues.

“We estimate that between 30-40 percent of fuel produced and imported into Libya is stolen or smuggled, with a loss to the Libyan people in the order of a billion dinars a year (US$ 750 million),” Mustafa Sanalla, chairman of the Libyan National Oil Corp., said on April 18 in Geneva.

Just a Chat Between Partners
Professional smugglers usually know they could be wiretapped, which makes the following conversation about a small tanker vessel called the Basbosa and its illicit diesel transfers all the more remarkable:

“Good morning, malem [Arabic for boss], how are you? I’m in Italy! Sorry for yesterday, but we were out. All 100 percent fine on the Basbosa.”
“Is it ready?”
“Yeah, except 300 are still on it, because the Solia didn’t take it all.”
“And those 300, can we send them with the Sea Master?”
“I’ll do that, you know? It arrives today at noon.”
The two men — former footballer Darren Debono and Libyan militia chief Fahmi Ben Khalifa — are discussing their smuggling business openly and without code words. They appear completely relaxed operating between a lawless Libya and a seemingly indifferent Malta.

They have no idea the Italian Financial Police are about to crack down.

The Basbosa is their small tanker, bringing smuggled fuel from Libya. That shipment will be split between their business partners’ ships — the Solia and the Sea Master X — and sold in Malta and beyond. It’s just one transaction in a trade that’s making the two partners millions of euros and supporting Ben Khalifa’s fiefdom in Libya....MUCH MORE
See also the latest from the OCCRP:

"Malta, A Modern Smugglers’ Hideout"
This piece is part of the Daphne Project, introduced last month in "Who Killed Investigative Journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia?".

If your ill-gotten gains are parked on Malta you might want to move them, these folks are turning-over every rock....