The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

TMIS Editorial: One way to take the sting out of corruption allegations

Sunday, 17 February 2019, 11:30 Last update: about 3 months ago

That the tuna farming industry is rife with funny business has been a well-known fact for a long time now, but this week’s allegations against the fisheries director of having taken kickbacks from a Spanish tuna kingpin put the industry right back into focus.

But what it also put right back into focus is how here in Malta, right smack in the middle of the Mediterranean as we are, we seem to be truly at the crossroads of so many things – both the savoury and the unsavoury.

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When one stops to think about it, tens if not hundreds of millions of euros of illicit trades are conducted through Malta and Maltese every month.

We have had the dirty oil business in which Maltese people oversaw the smuggling of contraband fuel worth tens of millions of euros from Libya to Europe, through Malta, between at least 2015 and 2016.

Money laundering, effectively the smuggling of illicit funds, is also rife in Malta as is well known. In addition to all the Panamas Papers business, people have been caught in the act time and time again. Take the case of the stepsons of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro, who laundered through Malta some €500 million in funds stolen from the impoverished Venezuelan people.

Think of the millions upon millions of contraband cigarettes that are seized every year, and the drug transhipments, destined to pass through and not end up in Malta, worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Think of the millions being made by human traffickers right here in the Central Mediterranean, or the arms trafficking going on right under our very noses.

One actually wonders not what is being smuggled but, rather, what is not being smuggled across the Mediterranean and through or around Malta.

And now think about what actually is not caught and the mind begins to boggle.

Those vast expanses of the Mediterranean right there on our doorstep are a no man’s land and excessively difficult to police, a Wild West where normal laws do not apply. And while it is not necessarily Malta’s role or duty to serve as any kind of policeman of the Med, the fact that many such activities are centred around Malta and Maltese people means that we should be taking some kind of regulatory action.

Partit Demokratiku recently filed a private members motion to establish an internationally-led body focused on combating organised crime in the Central Mediterranean, expressing concern that Malta could become an international crossroads for all sorts illegal trafficking.

That ship, it seems, has already sailed but that does not mean it is not too late to start taking some decisive steps in the right direction and PD’s motion might be a good starting point.

The idea is to establish an internationally-focused body on combating organised crime in the Central Mediterranean and to prevent illicit trade coming into Malta.

The motion proposed the establishment of an international body modelled on the tried and tested United Nations on the International Commission Against Corruption and Impunity to cover ungoverned international waters.

The concept is a novel one as such a Commission would deal with suspected crimes related to the illicit traffic of human beings and goods in the Central Mediterranean and be given a broad remit to direct resources towards the investigation and prosecution of organised crime.

Malta could potentially offer its courts for the adjudication of cases, necessitating amendments to criminal law, PD has suggested.

The concept is also a worthy one from a reputational point of view. If Malta were to make such a move for the betterment of the whole region, it may just help take some of the sting out of some of the criticism Malta has been receiving for being a haven for dirty money, for Italian mafia betting companies, for Azerbaijanis and others using Malta to launder money, for the smuggling of human beings, fuel, tuna, tobacco and narcotics, over and above the negative press received because of dirty banks, the sale of passports and Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder.

We had SwissLeaks, Panama Papers, the Malta Files, the Paradise Papers... the list goes on and on. 

These, right or wrong, have all cast Malta in a dubious light and the reputation we are accruing is one that we cannot afford, and our headlong rush into the crypto-currency could very well make matters worse.

Malta needs to take some remedial action and PD’s, motion could be a good starting point to show the world that we are serious about governance and rule of law.

That might just help take some of the sting out of all the criticism that we have been subjected to of late.

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