Reynders seeks answers over low level of frozen Russian cash in Malta

European Commissioner for justice holds exchange with Maltese MPs in foreign affairs committee

Didier Reynders
Didier Reynders

The European Commissioner for justice Didier Reynders carried out a consultation with MPs from Malta’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee on various matters pertaning to the state of rule of law, press freedom, judicial independence, but also enforcement of Russian sanctions.

Reynders remarked on Malta’s low level of frozen Russian monies, just over €220,000, saying he would keep up his exchanges with government officials on the reason for such a small amount, and to ensure correct implementation of sanctions.

Reynders said the Commission will be proposing the criminalisation of any attempt to circumvent sanctions, and said the EU would make Russia pay for reparations in the way, funded in part by the immobilisation of €300 billion in Central Bank of Russia reserves. “What is exceptional is that we are talking about war crimes prosecution and reparations now during the war... it is a clear signal to anyone trying to organise an aggression against their neighbour, that they will face consequences.”

Reynders said Malta will have a follow-up report on its state of rule of law in July, where the EC will continue with its monitoring mission with meetings with stakeholders.

Former justice minister Edward Zammit Lewis thanked Reynders for his fairness on giving credit to Malta where progress had been registered in the vast field of rule of law, and media freedom.

Zammit Lewis spoke on Maltese legislative efforts on press freedom, legal digitilisation, and efforts in delivering more efficiency in the dispensation of justice.

On the fight against corruption, Zammit Lewis said Malta had promulgated numerous laws apart from numerous committments with the EU, FATF and Moneyval, but said the island needed more effective action from institutions. “We made considerable investments in our financial intelligence unit, reaping some obvious benefits in the process, but we have a long way to go. We can do better but we are on the right track.”

Zammit Lewis said Malta’s 1964 Constitution, based on the Westminster model, was an inheritance that had imbued significant power within the prime minister, but admitted that Malta was slowly working towards introducing more check and balances.

Nationalist MP Mario de Marco said the Opposition recognised the progress registered by the State in rule of law, yet was clear that more had yet to be done.

De Marco listed Malta’s most pressing problem as the need for a properly functioning police. “Not enough emphasis has been placed on ensuring that the police force is not an extension of the executive... more needs to be done to ensure the police force is truly autonomous, which is why we feel that high-level corruption is not being investigated.”

He questioned the wisdom of giving government appointments to judges and magistrates after retirement, surmising that it could undermine their independence well before they retire.

And he rued the lack of maturity shown between government and opposition in the horse-trading on the appointment of the public standards commissioner. “The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life is an important tool in the fight against the corruption of the political class. The way forward is reaching consensus, but insted we saw legislation being changed so that a handpicked person could be put in office... regrettably.”

De Marco also said that independent media houses faced tremendous financial challenges, and agreed with the need for government aid to ensure the continued independence of the press, but said it would be dangerous for government to make newspapers dependent on government advertising.