The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Editorial: FIAU reports - How much more proof is needed?

Monday, 29 May 2017, 18:40 Last update: about 8 years ago

When the three independent newspapers said they had seen FIAU reports that had probed corruption allegations and concluded that there was a reasonable suspicion of money laundering by people close to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, the same newspapers were attacked by the pro-Labour camp and accused of cooking up stories to hurt Joseph Muscat’s ‘movement.’

Some people took advantage of the fact that we could not publish those reports, in order to protect our sources, and said the reports did not even exist.

Well, they do, and Opposition leader Simon Busuttil published all three during the Xarabank debate on Friday.

The first report looked into alleged kickbacks received by Keith Schembri from Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna. The second looked into suspicious payments made by Keith Schembri to the then-managing director of Allied Newspapers, Adrian Hillman, and the third looked into the operations of the now infamous Pilatus Bank, finding very serious shortcomings in the process.

This newspaper has now also received parts of a fourth report, which suggests that Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi took kickbacks from the LNG tanker deal and also that the antimoney laundering unit flagged suspicions of kickbacks in the Enemalta privatisation deal.

Let us for now focus on the reports which were published in their entirety, specifically the first two.

Perhaps the most important revelations were made in the report into alleged kickbacks given by Brian Tonna to Keith Schembri, with the money allegedly coming from the cash-for citizenship scheme. The report, which goes into excruciating detail, puts under serious doubt the explanations given by the two men, most notably on the €100,000 loan the wealthy Tonna had to take out from Schembri.

In both reports, the FIAU concluded that “the information available to the FIAU is deemed to be sufficient to conclude that a reasonable suspicion of money laundering and/or the existence of proceeds of crime subsists.”

Both reports were forwarded to the police commissioner. Both reports were left to gather dust on his desk.

Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar – along with the attorney general – is not the only one who has failed to give the reports the importance they deserve, however.

Prime Minister Muscat, who has consistently defended Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, ever since it became known that they had opened up companies in Panama and tried, in vain, to open bank accounts in foreign jurisdictions, has remained silent on the damning conclusions.

Despite the clear wording of the reports – which were conducted not by some amateur political party newspaper, but by the state entity tasked with combating money laundering – Keith Schembri continues to play the victim, claiming he is the target of some ‘smear campaign.’

Konrad Mizzi, despite observations made in the fourth FIAU investigation, continues to say that this is a “character assassination attempt.” Adrian Hillman and Brian Tonna have similarly continued to deny what is now there in black and white.

In the face of this irrefutable evidence, Joseph Muscat has still not sacked Mizzi and Schembri. The prime minister has insisted that Keith Schembri will resign if any proof of wrongdoing is found. The fact of the matter is that the FIAU reports are all that any serious prime minister would need to tell his two closest aides to resign and to stay away from politics for good.

In failing to take action on the reports, Joseph Muscat is not only closing an eye to corruption, but is also undermining the important institution that is the FIAU. Not that it has not been undermined already, mind you. The antimoney laundering unit conducted serious and detailed investigations and handed the reports in over a year ago, yet these were not followed up. It is no wonder that the former head of the FIAU found a job elsewhere and one police commissioner resigned over the political interference that has taken place under this administration.

Now that we have entered the final week of the election campaign, people need to wake up and take stock of the situation. Ignorance is not an excuse. People should put aside their political allegiances and at least bother to see what’s in the FIAU reports. People need to realise that this is not some ‘spin by a PNfriendly newspaper’, but actual reports from professional people whose job it is to protect the country from corruption and, by extension, the reputational damage that this brings with it.

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