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Two businessmen in court over oil scandal

Pair deny allegations of bribery and money laundering

Francis Portelli, left, and Tony Cassar leaving court followed by the defence team. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Francis Portelli, left, and Tony Cassar leaving court followed by the defence team. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Cassar Ship Repair chairman Tony Cassar and Francis Portelli, a director of Virtu Ferries Limited, were yesterday charged in connection with the oil procurement scandal exposed last month.

This case was not connected to the taking of commissions linked to former Enemalta chairman Tancred Tabone and his one-time adviser Frank Sammut, who were arraigned on Tuesday, according to the police.

The investigation began after invoices were published, allegedly showing that Mr Sammut took payments on oil consignments from Dutch company Trafigura to Enemalta in 2004.

Enemalta’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, also featured inthe investigation.

Mr Cassar, 63, from Tarxien, and Mr Portelli, also 63, from Ta’ Xbiex, stood in the dock watched by their families in the gallery and pleaded not guilty to bribery, being an accomplice in a crime committed by a public official and money laundering.

They were granted bail against a deposit of €20,000 and a personal guarantee of €20,000, which was substantially more than that given to Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut, who were asked to make a deposit of €3,000 and a guarantee of €15,000.

The Attorney General has demanded that bail to Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut is revoked. The matter is expected to be thrashed out on Monday.

Police Inspector Angelo Gafà, who conducted the prosecution with Assistant Police Commissioner Michael Cassar and Superintendent Paul Vassallo, said that a distinction had to be made between the case against Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut and that of Mr Cassar and Mr Portelli.

Asked to clarify the situation by Magistrate Claire Stafrace Zammit, the prosecuting officer said it was Mr Cassar and Mr Portelli who had allegedly bribed Mr Tabone and Mr Sammut.

Defence lawyers Steve Tonna Lowell, Anne Fenech and Andrè Mizzi requested bail on grounds that their clients had already been on police bail for the past month and had abided by the conditions imposed on them by the police.

Mr Gafà said that while he was objecting to bail being granted, he would advise that if bail were to be given, the court should ensure that the severity of the crime was reflected in strict conditions.

Magistrate Stafrace Zammit ordered that the assets of both men were frozen.

The case continues.

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