American defence secretary expected in Malta for SOFA talks as Moneyval test looms

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper in Malta this week for key talks as Moneyval test for Malta approaches

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper

American Defence Secretary Mark Esper is expected in Malta on Wednesday for talks on a Status of Forces Agreement and migration, MaltaToday has learnt.

The visit comes as pressure grows on the Maltese government to acquiesce with US demands in return for American support to ensure Malta passes the Moneyval test next month.

Esper is expected to meet Prime Minister Robert Abela, National Security Minister Byron Camilleri and Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo.

Sources close to government have confirmed that SOFA and migration in the Mediterranean are the main topics on the agenda.

The Americans have long wanted a Status of Forces Agreement that will determine issues of jurisdiction on US personnel in Malta.

Malta has so far resisted any such agreement with consensus prevailing among the two major political parties.

MaltaToday reported last week that the Americans are insisting on “concurrent jurisdiction”, a system where both American and Maltese courts have jurisdiction. Not everyone in government is keen on such a system.

But securing a SOFA agreement is also being seen as one way of ensuring American support in the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF), where the Moneyval assessment will be reviewed.

Malta risks failing the Moneyval test as a result of failings in its rule of law set up and the failure to prosecute cases of money laundering.

Esper’s visit comes at a crucial junction for Malta, which needs political support to get through the Moneyval test after enacting crucial legal reforms and beefing up its law enforcement arms dealing with financial crime.

It remains unclear whether Esper’s visit will be enough to secure Malta’s commitment to sign up for SOFA.

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