Muscat pledges to chase hidden bank accounts everywhere, not just Switzerland

Prime Minister says there is no sign of any threat from Libya, pledges to chase hidden accounts used to stash undeclared cash in overseas banks

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has pledged that the government will chase hidden bank accounts where Maltese people could have held undeclared cash away from tax authorities, and not just the bank accounts held in HSBC Geneva.

Muscat’s comments come a day after former Nationalist minister Michael Falzon suspended himself from the party after admitting holding some €460,000 with HSBC private bank in Geneva, Switzerland. It also follows an intense media investigation since a leaked clients’ list revealed over €600 million in Maltese cash.

“The government has already requested this list and is waiting for the relevant authorities to respond. However, this is only one bank, and there are more banks in Switzerland and in other countries where people could have stashed their money,” he said during a telephone interview with One Radio.

The prime minister also underlined that the government will work chase hidden account everywhere and work to identify the people who could have stashed their undeclared cash away from tax authorities in overseas banks.

Muscat also explained that there had also been another list, mentioned in 2010, which had not been followed up by the previous government, and which would be followed by the Labour government.

Turning his attention to the Libya crisis, Muscat reiterated that Malta has not received any information that it was being targeted, but underlined that there is nothing wrong with being vigilant.

“Malta is taking precautions because it is vigilant, and not because there is an indication of any danger. If this were to happen, I will warn the country,” he said.

The prime minister once again called for an UN-backed intervention to solve the Libya crisis, more so after report of infighting between rival factions and militants who pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. Muscat explained that he was glad to hear the French Prime minister declare that the crisis was a danger to Europe, arguing that the international community was at last realising the problems in Libya and the repercussions that Europe and the Mediterranean could face.

“There is no information of any threat, we should keep living our normal lives. The media should be careful to report the facts without alarming people,” he said while insisting that if the government received any knowledge of any threat, it would immediately inform the people.

Asked about Malta’s role in the Libyan crisis, the PL leader underlined that Malta’s role is to unite the two rival governments of Tobruk and Tripoli to better tackle threats posed by terrorists. The prime minister also explained that if a diplomatic solution was not achieved, the international community could not sit idly by in the face of the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis afflicting Libya.

On Greece’s four-month extension of its bailout programme, Muscat expressed scepticism at the measure, dubbing it as a mere “postponement of the problem.” On Friday, Eurozone finance minister agreed to grant the Greek Syriza government a four-month extension to its bailout programme on condition of a list of reforms the Greek government.

The proposed reforms will then be scrutinised by the European Commission, its central bank and the International Monetary Fund before it gets its four-month extension.

“So far there is only a temporary situation, but no concrete solution. The problem has only been postponed for four months,” he said.

The prime minister explained that what was most important was that Greece was now legally bound to honour its obligations towards its creditors.

“Malta’s position remains the same: Greece must pay the €180 million it borrowed from Malta. We understand that the Greek people are against the austerity measures, but Malta cannot foot the bill and bear the consequences. If Greece wants to reintroduce the pensions, it can do so, only after Malta is paid,” Muscat warned.

On Malta’s fuel prices, the prime minister noted that prices in Europe had increased. On Thursday, data published by the European Commission showed that the price of fuel increased for the third consecutive week across the Eurozone, with petrol reaching a weighted average of €1.37 across the euro area and diesel €1.22.

A bullish Muscat explained that despite the Opposition’s criticism at Malta’s fuel prices – which culminated in the filing of a parliamentary motion solely intent on reducing fuel prices – time would show that the government was right on the issue and that Malta's prices would be lower than the European average.

“The figures show Simon Busuttil’s amateurism. Time would show that the government was right on the fuel issue, and that the Opposition’s criticism was mute and too early,” the prime minister continued.