[WATCH] SOFA deal not linked to Moneyval, PM insists • Bartolo issues denial

Robert Abela dismisses links between Moneyval and a Status of Forces Agreement with the US, insists any military agreement will respect Constitution

Evarist Bartolo issued a denial on a SOFA deal with the United States 12 hours after PM Robert Abela appeared unclear on what
Evarist Bartolo issued a denial on a SOFA deal with the United States 12 hours after PM Robert Abela appeared unclear on what
SOFA deal not linked to Moneyval, PM insists

Robert Abela has dismissed links between Malta’s efforts to pass the Moneyval test and US pressure for the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement.

The Maltese foreign ministry also issued a denial of reports that the Cabinet had approved a Status of Forces Agreement, 12 hours after first reports in The Times were published online. “The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs would like to state on the record that no such agreement exists, and Malta is no closer to signing an agreement with the United States of America or NATO than over the past years. Furthermore, as has been repeatedly explained, there is no relationship between SOFA and the FATF/Moneyval.”

The Prime Minister on Tuesday morning insisted a potential agreement on SOFA had nothing to do with Moneyval despite reports that the Americans were using their clout on the international Financial Action Task Force as leverage to push through the military deal.

Abela appeared uncomfortable when asked about Cabinet’s decision to acquiesce to a SOFA deal, insisting he would not react to news reports, citing confidentiality issues.

But when initially asked about the link between Moneyval and SOFA, Abela said he could not understand how his government was encouraged to do everything it could to fight money laundering and still receive criticism for actually doing so.

“I cannot start reacting to what was and what wasn’t discussed in cabinet… I find it surprising that on one side the country is doing its utmost to tackle the issue of money laundering, and on the other whenever government tries to implement something it is faced by a full-on attack,” Abela told journalists before entering Auberge de Castille this morning.

READ ALSO: Americans put the heat on ministers with Moneyval test

The Americans have for the past two decades called for a SOFA deal with Malta, something that never materialised because of concerns it would go against the Constitution. Additionally, Malta has always been wary of giving up jurisdiction in processing US military personnel who may be involved in a crime on the island.

The Labour Party has over the years been particularly opposed to a SOFA deal. But now government faces pressure to pass the Moneyval test and the Americans have promised to use their clout at the FATF in return for Maltese cooperation.

Asked what spurred a change of heart on SOFA given the previous cross-party reluctance to acquiesce with US demands, Abela would only say that any agreement would respect Malta’s Constitution and laws.

He insisted that there was no link between SOFA and Moneyval.

The renewed emphasis on SOFA comes as the matter will be on the agenda of tomorrow’s visit to Malta by US Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

MaltaToday reported on Sunday that SOFA and immigration were the two main items on Esper’s agenda.

A SOFA agreement outlines how American military personnel, US defence contractors and their equipment will be treated on Maltese soil in terms of judicial jurisdiction, taxation and other matters.

It would also make it possible for American military ships to visit the islands on courtesy calls and be maintained in Malta’s shipyards.

READ ALSO: So near, yet SOFA: a short history of America’s 20-year chase for Malta’s consent