The Malta Independent 20 July 2018, Friday

Sparks fly in Parliament as opposition MPs indicate MFSA action was not enough

Wednesday, 21 March 2018, 18:20 Last update: about 5 months ago

Sparks flew in Parliament this evening, as the opposition took aim at the measures taken by the MFSA against Pilatus Bank, with some highlighting that the revocation of the banking licence is in order and others calling for political responsibility to be upheld.

A ministerial statement on the Pilatus Bank situation was made by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, who said that he did not have the MFSA decision during his speech, however the MFSA's decision regarding the bank came out midway through the debate while the oppositin was posing questions.

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A number of Opposition MPs called for the revocation or suspension of the bank's licence, however Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the rule of law means that government cannot take such action, and said that the MFSA Supervisory Council is autonmous.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said that contrary to what the "opposition says, this government does not work in kneejerk reactions." He said that one cannot expect a minister to order what the MFSA or FIAU does"

Several PN MPs during the debate, had highlighted that Malta's reputation was being damaged. The Minister said that the USA prosecutor was careful not to even damage the institutions involved in the case, by not, for example, mentioning the name of the New York Bank involved.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Prime Minister Joseph Muscat were bombarded by PN and PD MPs with requests for serious action to be taken against Pilatus bank. PN Leader Adrian Delia was travelling abroad on party business and could not be present since the announcement of the ministerial statement was made on such short notice, Parliament was told.

Former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil said that this arrest in the USA gives hope that justice can be done. He said that the Finance Minister, in his initial statement did not mention the accusation of money laundering. He said that Pilatus Bank received its licence under Muscat's government, and so it is pointless trying to brush off responsibility. He said that he has lost count of the number of times the bank was implicated in money laundering scenarios. He said that Keith Schembri, Brian Tonna and Adrian Hillman have accounts with the bank, as do Azerbaijani politicians. He said that the Opposition has long been speaking out against Pilatus Bank, and that government had taken over the public authorities like the Attorney General, the police and FIAU "who could and should have done something, but did nothing."

"What they did not do, the USA did." He asked the minister whether he will stop playing with words and grab the bull by the horns and close the bank once and for all, also asking when political responsibility will be carried.

PN MP Kristy Debono spoke of the importance of Malta having a sterling reputation, and said that she at the very least expected a kneejerk reaction by government where the licence would be suspended and operations of the bank frozen.

PN MP Mario de Marco said that the time has come for the Prime Minister to carry political responsibility. He said that the FIAU reports had found irregularities with regards to compliance under the Prime Minister's leadership, yet the bank was still in operation. He said that under the Prime Minster's leadership, the FIAU investigator was fired instead of being given protection to continue investigating.

Jason Azzopardi was delivering his reaction when the news broke about the MFSA's decision. Scicluna, in his opening speech, had said that he was informed that the MFSA will take take a number of significant measures with regards to the bank and shareholders. Azzopardi questioned the seriousness of the measures taken, "where all that is being said is that the Chairperson will be suspended from his roles, and that the directors and officials will have their deposits frozen. What responsibility will you carry when in 2016 the FIAU gave clean bill of health to bank after report full of failure of compliance? What responsibility will you carry when it was found that USA has been investigating since 2013?"

PD MP Marlene Farrugia spoke of the number of scandals Pilatus Bank has been mentioned in, and that since then, a journalist was assassinated by a bomb and a whistleblower had to leave the country due to threats.

PN MP Karol Aquilina said that government Ali Sadr has had criminal problems for over a year. He presented a copy of the FIAU report leaked last year, which mentioned that Ali Sadr was being investigated by a foreign jurisdiction for money laundering, and other violations. "So at least the FIAU knew Ali Sadr's character. These are facts the FIAU knew and hid, and if it wasn't leaked, we would not know what he was doing." He asked how the minister could know this and not take action.

 Actions taken are the highest prior to the revocation of a licence - PM

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that Karol Aquilina's statement shows the non sequitur of what the Opposition has been saying. "Aquilina said that the FIAU report showed that the person was being investigated abroad, and told us that we knew for a year and did nothing. Let's be logical, The Americans knew for over a year and did nothing. They did something now as the process has to take its course. Your argument which is illogical, shows the sensitivity of such reports by which the publication could have prejudiced a case in another jurisdiction."

He mentioned that this case occurred between 2007 and 2010. "So we are saying that they knew since 2007 and did nothing? No I think they investigated when they had information and took action today because they had enough evidence."

Referring to Kristy Debono, Muscat said government does not make knee jerk reactions. "We were asked why we don't suspend the licence etc. Because the rule of law, a phrase this Parliament has heard for months, prohibits an EU government from taking those decisions, and that an autonomous and independent institution takes those decisions. The minister was correct to say that he could not say what the measures where as he is not the one who can take said decisions. The MFSA supervisory council is autonomous, even from inside the MFSA and from government, which announced the decisions. The action taken, as far as I know, are the highest prior to the revocation of a licence." He said that the revocation of a licence must occur on the bases of a number of procedures, by which one would undermine all this with a kneejerk reaction.


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