Attorney General: ‘I am not privy to FIAU investigations’

AG Peter Grech warns publishing FIAU reports a crime liable to five years jail, clarifies he has no power to request criminal investigations into money laundering 

AG Peter Grech warned that disclosure of FIAU reports punishable by five years' jail
AG Peter Grech warned that disclosure of FIAU reports punishable by five years' jail

Attorney General Peter Grech has insisted that he has no role in investigations conducted by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit and warned that the disclosure of contents of its reports is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.

PN leader Simon Busuttil on Sunday demanded that Grech instantly publish all reports drawn up by the FIAU on alleged corruption by top government officials “in the national interest”. He argued that Grech, in his capacity as AG and chairperson of the FIAU, had failed to take action on a damning report that found “reasonable suspicion” that OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna were involved in money laundering or the proceeds of crime related to kickbacks from the sale of citizenship scheme.

However, Grech told MaltaToday that the FIAU’s board of governors, of which he is chairperson, plays no role whatsoever in the unit’s investigations.

“The governing board’s role is related to policy decisions and has no role whatsoever in the FIAU’s operations which are entrusted solely to the director and his staff,” he said. “I have no idea who and what the FIAU is investigating. I would be aware when a report is passed on to the police, but the report itself would not pass through the board.”

He added that the separation of powers between the FIAU’s governance and investigative arms was intended to prevent potential conflicts of interests from arising on the part of the governing board members – which besides the AG also includes representatives from the Central Bank, the police force and the Malta Financial Services Authority.

Grech refused to flat-out confirm whether he had seen the contents of the FIAU’s report into Schembri and Tonna that, according to the Times of Malta, was passed on to the police commissioner for further action in May 2016, arguing that doing so could breach the FIAU’s strict confidentiality laws.

Indeed, he warned that the disclosure of FIAU investigations is punishable by law with a five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to €116, 468.

“Confidentiality prohibits me from saying yes or no, and the people who are claiming that I have seen this report should substantiate what they’re saying,” he said. “Ultimately, the FIAU is an intelligence agency, whose role is to gather financial intelligence which it passes on to the police if it has a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing.

“The FIAU’s role requires its investigations to be kept strictly confidential, as it collects extremely sensitive information, including of third parties who are not being investigated themselves.”

He said he had never personally approached Simon Busuttil to clarify these points to him, arguing that “I don’t think it’s wise for the AG to enter the political fray”.

Simon Busuttil demanded that the AG publish FIAU reports into money laundering
Simon Busuttil demanded that the AG publish FIAU reports into money laundering

‘I have no power to request a criminal investigation’

Grech on Saturday told the Times of Malta that he does not have the power to commence a prosecution or to conduct investigations, and that such a power is vested solely in the police commissioner.

PN candidates and civil society activists responded by sharing a paragraph from Article 4 from the Money Laundering Act which states: “Where, upon information received, the Attorney General has reasonable cause to suspect that a person is guilty of the offence of [money laundering], he may apply to the Criminal Court for an investigation order…”

Grech told MaltaToday that “a play on words” is going on and that some people may have got confused by the legal jargon.

He said that an “investigation order” does not mean a criminal investigation, but rather an investigative measure similar to a search warrant that, if it yields sufficient evidence, could precede a criminal investigation.

Suspects are not even informed when they are under an investigation order. Grech refused to confirm or deny whether he had applied to the Criminal Court for an investigation order in the Schembri-Tonna case, arguing that he is bound by confidentiality not to comment in that regard. 

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