Two in court on oil fraud charges
AG may review bail
Former Enemalta chairman Tancred Tabone and his one-time advisor Frank Sammut were yesterday charged with fraud, bribery and money laundering in connection with commissions allegedly paid over the sale of oil.
In separate arraignments, the two men pleaded not guilty to the charges as well as to revealing official secrets.
The money laundering charge alone, if proven, carries a maximum jail term of 14 years.
Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi issued a statement shortly afterwards expressing “profound disappointment” and saying he could not accept that people appointed to safeguard the public interest betrayed the trust placed in them.
The police started their investigation after invoices were published allegedly showing that Mr Sammut took kickbacks on consignments from Dutch oil giant Trafigura to Enemalta in 2004.
The police also probed the corporation’s former oil bunkering subsidiary (MOBC) and a firm that later took a significant share of its business, Island Bunkering Oil Ltd, in which Mr Tabone is a shareholder.
In the sitting yesterday, 60-year-old Mr Tabone from Sliema, a former president of the Chamber of Commerce, stood in the dock twiddling his fingers behind his back as the proceedings got under way.
Supported by his wife and two sons, Mr Tabone’s arraignment stood in contrast to that of 62-year-old, Mr Sammut, a petrochemist from Marsaxlokk, who appeared on his own.
Magistrate Gabriella Vella granted both men bail against a personal guarantee of €15,000 and a deposit of €3,000 after lawyer Giannella de Marco, appearing for Mr Tabone, and lawyer Joe Giglio, representing Mr Sammut, said the defendants had been on police bail for a month.
Dr de Marco, who was the first to make her arguments, said she found it strange that the prosecution, made up of Assistant Commissioner Michael Cassar, Police Superintendent Paul Vassallo and Police Inspector Angelo Gafa, objected to bail when her client had obeyed their instructions throughout the investigation.
Inspector Gafa made a distinction between the two men, arguing that while Mr Tabone had not cooperated with the investigation and refused to answer key questions, Mr Sammut had helped by giving information about third parties.
Inspector Gafa said he was afraid Mr Tabone might tamper with evidence when it came to another man, George Farrugia, the agent for the international oil companies that benefitted from the oil tenders and who was given a presidential pardon to turn state’s evidence in the case.
Dr de Marco said that his argument did not hold water because Mr Farrugia was only given the pardon under specific conditions – it was not in his interest to go against those conditions.
Moreover, she argued, her client had simply availed himself of the right not to answer some questions in all seven of his police statements.
Sources told The Times, however, that the Attorney General’s office was considering requesting a review of the bail conditions, which could include a request to revoke bail.
A decision has not yet been taken but the prosecution only has 24 hours within which to file its challenge.
Magistrate Vella also ordered the assets frozen of a list of companies involving Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut, including Island Bunkering Oils, FP Holdings, Eldaren Shipping Company, Oarsman Maritime, Anchor Bay Maritime and Island Oils Holdings and Energy and Environment Consultants.
Dr Giglio pointed out that his client did not have any current connections to the companies except for Energy and Environment Consultants.