The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

Updated: MEPs more concerned about the rule of law now than before visit

Kevin Schembri Orland Friday, 1 December 2017, 14:59 Last update: about 14 days ago

MEPs are more concerned about the rule of law now than when they arrived, Head of the MEP delegation S&D MEP Ana Gomes told the media today.

Originally, it was Greens MEP Sven Giegold who made this statement during the press conference. Asked if the MEPs shared his sentiment, Gomes said “unfortunately yes.”

The delegation was in Malta to assess concerns raised at a European level about the rule of law in the country following a European Parliament sitting held last month.

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During the debate, MEPs from all political groupings criticised Malta before overwhelmingly voting in favour of a resolution urging the Commission to open talks with Malta about the rule of law in the country. The debate was held following the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia on 16 October.

Over two days, the delegation members met with, among others, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, the Chief Justice, the Police Commissioner, the Attorney General, the Financial Analysis Intelligence Unit (FIAU), the Financial Services Authority (MFSA), non-governmental organisations and anti-corruption activists, media, representatives of the Pilatus Bank and of KPMG Malta. All the invitees accepted to meet the delegation, except for Nexia BT director.

MEP_7 from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

During the press conference, Giegold said he was more concerned now than before coming to Malta.  He was responding to questions by the foreign press, and said that the MEPs did not learn a lot about the individual cases, as there were limits on what could be revealed. He said that he noted an unwillingness and incompetence to investigate and prosecute on a number of cases.

He said the police in particular showed a high degree of unwillingness to investigate and partially demonstrated incompetence. “I am even more concerned over the rule of law now than before the visit and we have to follow up on what we found”.

He spoke about the documents provided by former FIAU investigator Jonathan Ferris and his declaration that he does not feel safe. He said all MEPs said he deserves day and night protection, calling on the authorities to put it in place. “I call on people in Malta to share information with us so we can do our job.”

Gomes said that the MEPs expressed serious concerns about the unclear separation of powers during their meetings, “which has been a source of the perceived lack of independence of the judiciary and the police, the weak implementation of anti-money laundering legislation, the serious problems deriving from the IIP scheme, and mentions of politically exposed persons in the Panama Papers and their continuing presence in government. Members noted the low rate of investigations an absence of prosecution by the Maltese authorities on these cases, as well as with regards to private sector actors involved, such as Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank."

Gomes stressed that the rule of law in the member states, whether Malta or any other EU country, is of great concern to all. “The rule of law is a matter of collective security. The brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was aimed at nstilling fear in everyone, especially those involved in investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering and corruption. We are worried about the low number of cases that are being prosecuted in the area of financial crimes. This impunity cannot continue.”

Photos/videos Paul Jones

Gomes also expressed concerns about the “accumulation of powers with the Attorney General,” which she felt were not fully used when it comes to fighting corruption and money laundering. She said that Malta is not fully implementing the4th anti-money laundering directive , and that it is blocking an agreement on the 5th one, which aims to increase transparency when it comes to the real owners behind companies and trusts. She also pointed out that Malta has decided not to join the European Prosecutors Office, which aims at fighting fraud involving EU funds and protecting the financial interests of the Union.

Another topic of concern for the MEPs, she said, was the IIP scheme. The sale of Maltese passports to foreigners, without disclosure of who these persons were, is a grave matter. “This system, with all its opacity, bears the risk of importing criminals and money laundering into the whole EU”, Gomes said.

Gomes mentioned that OPM Chief of Staff never accepted to meet with the MEPs, but turned up in a meeting with the Prime Minister. Gomes said that Schembri read out a prepared statement, and that he was unable to comment further due to the magisterial inquiries.

MEP_5 from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

Asked by this newsroom following the meetings with various institutions, for the committee’s conclusions as to why no follow-ups to the FIAU reports were made, Gomes said: “We concluded that indeed there are legal powers conferred to several authorities to launch prosecutions on the basis of the intelligent reports that the FIAU produced that are in the public domain, that might require own investigations by the police. But the fact is that the police have an interpretation that prevents it from acting. At the same time the Attorney General who could have ordered the investigation, however is having a restrictive interpretation of his own powers. We have had conflicting visions of whether he can order investigations or not, there was some playing with words regarding prosecution or investigation. 

MEP_3 from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

"The crucial issue not to fuel a sense of impunity is that investigations be seen to be happening.  In some cases this was handed over for magisterial inquiries.  Inquiries can go on for a long time, and in the meantime it is disturbing that some people identified in the FIAU report - as is case of Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri - are still in government and that fuels a perception that justice is not taking its course."

MEPs did not meet with the Russian Whistleblower who revealed information about the Panama Papers, but opened the door to her if she wished to speak up. Regarding Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank, she said that they met with representatives of Pilatus Bank and did not meet with Nexia BT, but added that they know investigations into these two entities are ongoing."

The delegation members will now draw-up a report, which will be made public and forwarded to the European Parliament's Conference of Presidents which brings together the EP's President and the leaders of the political groups.


 

 

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