The Malta Independent 17 October 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Moneyval report - Police financial crimes unit needs beefing up

Friday, 13 September 2019, 10:24 Last update: about 2 months ago

The Moneyval report published yesterday acknowledges that substantial efforts have been made by Malta to better understand the threats of money laundering but says that the country is largely failing to prosecute this kind of crime.

The report largely lays the blame with the police, who seem to be inadequately equipped to handle this kind of crime in an ever growing financial services sector.

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Now, to be fair, the report is based on an onsite visit that took place in November 2018, and one must acknowledge that the authorities, mainly the Malta Financial Services Authority, have since addressed some of the issues mentioned in this report and previous ones.

Just last week, the MFSA published a three-year strategy that includes a €12 million investment to step up its compliance supervision. It has also engaged a number of American experts to train its growing team of inspectors. CEO Joseph Cuschieri said last week that the effect of these added site visits is already being felt on the ground, so much so that operators in the sector have complained about it – which is good, because it means that something is being done.

Cuschieri pointed to the Basel AML index for 2019, which has ranked as the 113th country with the lowest risk in terms of Money Laundering/Financing of Terrorism, out of a total of 125. This means that only 12 countries evaluated in the index have a lower risk profile.

He also said the number of Suspicious Transaction Reports drawn up by MFSA and FIAU officials during their joint investigations has shot up dramatically over the past two years.

The fact remains, however, that these added STR numbers are not translating into more police investigations and prosecutions.

Asked about this, Cuschieri said he cannot tell the police what to do and where to invest, but said that increased efficiency in financial crime analysis has to be backed up by adequate prosecutorial resources.

In its initial reaction, the government said it was satisfied with the progress achieved on the multi-year Strategic Action Plan laid out by Malta’s National Coordinating Committee (NCC), which includes representatives of the finance ministry, the MFSA, the FIAU and the Malta Police Force.

It pledged to work on the recommendations made in the Moneyval report, which it has to act on within a one-year time frame. The government said the “Maltese authorities will be strengthened and be better equipped to combat money-laundering activities and the financing of terrorism.”

One hopes that these authorities include the police force, which has to be beefed up in terms of personnel, equipment and training so as to be better able to prosecute financial crimes flagged by the regulatory bodies. It is pointless to identify crimes if these do not lead to prosecution.

On a final note, the government cannot expect people to take it seriously when it says that it is doing all it can to combat money laundering when alleged cases involving some of its top people go uninvestigated.

The FIAU did its job there – the leaked reports are there for everyone to see. Unfortunately, the police investigations that should have followed aren’t.

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