The Malta Independent 22 September 2021, Wednesday

TMIS Editorial: Another blow to Malta’s reputation

Sunday, 25 July 2021, 11:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

Malta’s reputation and the future of our financial services sector have taken another severe blow after the UK placed Malta on its high-risk list for money laundering and terrorist financing.

The move comes hot on the heels of Malta’s greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) a few weeks back.

While some may argue that comparisons are odious, it is quite regretful to see Malta placed on the UK list together with countries like Haiti, South Sudan and the Philippines, at the same time that Ghana made it off the list.

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The fact that Malta is the only European Union Member State on both the FATF and UK grey lists also reflects very badly on a country whose economy relies so strongly on financial services.

Despite the Prime Minister’s assurances that Malta will double up on its efforts to get off the FATF grey list as soon as possible, and despite the advances made by our regulatory and law enforcement bodies over past months, this latest development will undoubtedly complicate matters for Malta.

It seems that the FATF greylisting has set in motion a domino effect and more jurisdictions could follow Britain’s suit and kick Malta in the proverbial nuts.

We truly hope that this will not be the case, as Malta’s already tattered reputation cannot afford to take any more hits. But we fear that we have not seen the end of it yet.

Several countries have long been jealous of our once-thriving financial services and attractive corporate tax regime, including the UK, which is facing its own money laundering woes and which finds itself in a difficult situation post-Brexit.

They have been lying in wait for the right moment to strike. And that moment has now come.

The real unfortunate thing is that Malta – and when we say Malta, we mean the previous administration led by Joseph Muscat – has presented them such an opportunity on a silver platter.

We knew that Malta would come under attack if we failed to address shortcomings in money laundering prevention and if we protected high-level corruption; yet, for many years, we did just that. The last scandal-ridden eight years have earned us a reputation of being a country that closes an eye to corruption and we are now paying for it.

One may argue that the criticism currently being levelled at the police force and, more specifically at the Police Commissioner, is unfair because the police have made some great improvements when it comes to preventing and prosecuting money laundering. As an example, the police force today has a financial crimes unit that is actually doing what should have been done years ago.

However, the truth is that such complex investigations can last for years, and they started very late. So even the police commissioner is suffering from the inaction of his predecessors, many of whom served as puppets to the political masters that gave them the job.

This newsroom understands that many investigations involving high-ranking political figures are ongoing, some of them at a very advanced stage, but one cannot blame institutions like the FATF for faulting us over alleged crimes and corruption that took place six years ago or more.

This newspaper reports today that the financial services watchdog will soon have its first ever non-Maltese CEO. The government is expected to announce the new head of the MFSA in the coming days.

Government sources had said that the MFSA opened up its vacancy on an international level “in a bid to restore its credibility” after all the bad press it received over the past few years.

That the authority has found a foreign boss is a positive step because it might manage to fix its reputation.

However, at the same time, it is unfortunate to think that, because of what happened over the past years, and because of the bad reputation we now have, we have to rely on a foreign national to do a job that, surely, many Maltese people are as qualified to do.

The truth is that we have a lot of hard work to do in the coming months and the going won’t be easy. This is no trivial matter.

The Opposition Leader’s pledge that a PN government would get Malta off the FATF grey list in three months is undoubtedly unrealistic.

At the same time, the PM’s pledge to double efforts in this regard will ring hollow unless backed up by tangible results.

That means beefing up the institutions further and, more importantly, increasing the level of prosecution against money laundering and corruption, particularly when it comes to people who once walked the corridors of power.

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