The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

Financial Organised Crime Agency will be able to both investigate and prosecute – Scicluna

Kevin Schembri Orland Sunday, 20 October 2019, 10:30 Last update: about 23 days ago

The Financial Organised Crime Agency that the government intends to establish will have the power to both investigate and prosecute, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna told Kevin Schembri Orland through an email interview. The Minister did not, however, have much to say when asked about a potential overhaul within BOV, or about what the government can do to help elderly, non-tech savvy HSBC customers in view of the bank’s recent announcement, opting to just to answer that “both banks are systematic banks and are supervised by the EU Single Supervisor.”

In a first, a Financial Organised Crime Agency being established will have executive powers to both investigate and prosecute money-laundering, tax and financing of terrorism offenses, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna highlights in an interview in today’s issue.

The Agency, the establishment of which Cabinet had approved back in June and which was formalised by the finance minister in this week’s Budget, is expected to begin operations within the coming months.

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The Agency, which Scicluna says will not replace the Police’s Economic Crimes Unit but will rather work in collaboration with it, will be set up through the enactment of a legislative Act.

Scicluna explains: “It will be given all the necessary executive powers to investigate and prosecute those who are found in breach of the relevant legislation.”

“By establishing a Financial Organised Crime Agency we will not be reinventing the wheel: other countries have similar structures,” he says,

“In fact, we have embarked on having such a structure to better combat money-laundering activities.  The Police Unit and the Agency will complement each other. In fact they will need to collaborate and share databases.

 

“With this Agency, Malta will be better equipped to tackle tax evasion, money-laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

With regard to the €10,000 cap on the amount of cash one can use to purchase items, how do you intend to enforce this? How will it work?

The cash restriction will be introduced by means of regulations made by the Minister for Finance as empowered by the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.

These regulations aim to introduce a restriction on the use of cash by making it illegal to make and/or receive payments in cash in excess of €10,000 when selling or buying immovable property, pleasure boats and yachts, cars, precious stones and metals – including jewellery – and works of art.

A breach of this restriction would constitute a criminal offence. The FIAU or another Authority would be responsible for supervising compliance and for receiving reports in order to analyse and report to the competent authorities for further investigations.

The government announced the creation of a Financial Organised Crimes Agency. Who will oversee this and who will be the lead authority: will it be this agency, the FIAU, the economic crimes unit?  Will it fall under the responsibility of the police and will there be overlaps with other authorities?  Why create a new agency instead of strengthening the existing ones?

By establishing a Financial Organised Crime Agency we will not be reinventing the wheel: other countries have similar structures. In fact, we have embarked on having such a structure to better combat money-laundering activities.

The Police Unit and the Agency will complement each other. In fact they will need to collaborate and share databases. With this Agency, Malta will be better equipped to tackle tax evasion, money laundering and the financing of terrorism.

The Agency will be set up though the enactment of a legislative Act. It will be given all the necessary executive powers to investigate and prosecute those who are found in breach of the relevant legislation.

With regard to banking, both BOV and HSBC are going through a number of changes. Where BOV is concerned, the government is the major shareholder and the chairman is appointed by the government. This newsroom has been informed that BOV is undergoing a major overhaul. Why is it going through this overhaul and what will it entail? In terms of the recent HSBC announcement, what advice do you have for the elderly who are not tech savvy, and what can the government do to help?

Both banks are systematic banks and are supervised by the EU Single Supervisor.

The Prime Minister said that the intention is for Public Transport to be free for everyone. Previous governments used to heavily subsidise public transport and ended up with financial problems. From where will the government get the funds to support such an initiative?

The exercise of providing free transport is being carried out in gradual steps that the country can afford to do as it continues to grow and thus afford to implement this goal.

Some are criticising the government, arguing that it has forgotten about the middle class in this budget. How do you respond to such arguments?

On the contrary, this Budget was specifically targeted to enhance the income of middle-class families. Amongst them is the extending of the eligibility to include middle incomes for the affordable housing benefit scheme, the one-off bonus for every household, the 15 per cent flat tax rate on the first 100 hours overtime, the tax refund ranging between €40 to €68, the introduction of a €300 bonus for a new-born baby or adopted child, irrespective of the income earned, lower tariffs on the charging of electric cars, the interest-free loan equivalent to a down-payment of up to €17,500 for people up to the age of 40 when buying their own property. In addition, there has been the increase in the exemption of duty for first-time buyers and the extension of the current four schemes of duty reductions on the purchase of property, on top of the second-time buyer scheme.

All these are in addition to this year’s schemes including the continuation of free transport for all students in state, independent and church schools and free child-care centres.

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