The Malta Independent 17 October 2018, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: The investigators lost for words when investigated

Sunday, 15 July 2018, 09:40 Last update: about 3 months ago

Yesterday we finally heard the first squeak out of the government about the deeply concerning situation that is the results of European Banking Authority’s investigation into Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit’s (FIAU) handling of the Pilatus Bank situation.

And kudos to Parliamentary Secretary Silvio Schembri for fielding those questions yesterday because someone from government, at the end of the day, absolutely had to say something, even if that ‘something’ was not really very much at all.

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And although those answers are just a little less lacklustre than the pathetic reply to what is a most damning indictment for the FIAU, they are welcomed nonetheless.

We do not hold junior minister Schembri accountable for the rot that was allowed to fester, this predates his tenure, – but his boss, the finance minister, must at least be accountable for this situation, unless the buck is passed further up, rather than down, the chain.

Some sections of the media, including this publishing house, have been screaming until we turned blue in the face, that there was something not quite right with that relationship between the bank and members of the government.

We, as the media, have highlighted those incriminating leaked FIAU reports, written before the Unit’s former head was curiously replaced, that implicated the bank in a lot of alleged dirty business. We have demanded action from the authorities that are meant to safeguard the country from this kind of thing.

But, at the end of the day, it was the Americans and the Europeans that finally brought the situation to bear. The bank’s owner now faces up to 125 years in an American penitentiary over money laundering and sanctions busting charges, and the European Banking Authority has now cracked down on Malta’s own FIAU for having treated the bank with kid gloves.

But still under scrutiny are the bank’s questionable relations with members of the government of Malta, where it seems to have been given a virtual carte blanche to operate.

Matters have now come to a head; there can be no more burying the head in the sand and waiting for storms to blow over as has been this government’s modus operandi every time it is hit with a new scandal.

This issue is now out of the hands of the Maltese government, and it is quite possibly also out of its control now that Brussels has well and truly sunk its teeth into this one.

The European Banking Authority (EBA) has come down hard on Malta’s FIAU for what it clearly views as a dereliction of duty when it came to its supervision of Pilatus Bank, that bank which has gained so much infamy in Malta for so many reasons and on so many levels.

This whole situation is riddled with conflicts of interest, not least of which is that of the Attorney General, who with the one hand advises the government on whether there has been a breach of European Union law when it comes to the FIAU and Pilatus Bank, as the European Banking Authority is alleging, and who, with the other hand, serves as the chairman of the FIAU.

It is understandable, and correct, that the finance minister does not interfere in the workings of regulatory bodies, even if they are under his remit, but he must also ensure that such glaring conflicts of interest do not continue, especially now after all that has come to pass.

And this is not because Europe may demand such action, it is because the people of this country deserve better governance than they are getting.

But in the face of all this, all the FIAU has had to say so far is that it is ‘disappointed’ and that it will be replying to the EBA in due course. One should hope the Unit is disappointed and that it will be replying.

It is no wonder the investigators, the FIAU, are at a loss for words.

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