Leaders squabble over who politicised the enforcers of money laundering rules

As Prime Minister warns of international interest in tarnishing Malta's reputation, the Opposition leader calls for action to depoliticise institutions like the police and the Attorney General

Parliamentary question time touched on the conclusions of the European Parliament's Pana Committee
Parliamentary question time touched on the conclusions of the European Parliament's Pana Committee

Joseph Muscat and Adrian Delia crossed swords but remained composed over the conclusion reached by MEPs that Maltese institutions tasked to combat money laundering were “highly politicised”.

They were referring to the conclusions of the European Parliament’s Pana Committee released today that included references to Malta.

The committee had visited Malta earlier this year as part of its Europe-wide probe into the workings of the financial services industry following the release of Panama Papers.

This evening during question time in Parliament the Opposition leader asked the Prime Minister what measures the government was going to adopt to ensure the enforcement agencies did not continue being “highly politicised”.

Muscat’s initial response was a political jibe. “One can also interpret the conclusion to mean that the previous government had staffed these agencies with political appointments because we left most people we found in their post,” he said.

But the Prime Minister said that although he took note of what the MEPs said, he did not agree with certain interpretations. Muscat also quoted another part of the report that said the Maltese tax system was in line with “current international and EU standards”, warning that much of the international criticism directed towards Malta’s financial services sector came from foreign jurisdictions that were competitors.

Delia responded by saying that he did not care whether “politicised” was a reference to the actions of the Nationalist Party or the Labour Party but it evidently was a problem that had to be addressed.

He again asked what action the Prime Minister was willing to take, especially in the wake of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, to bolster institutions such as the police, the Attorney General and the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.

In a press conference after the parliamentary exchange, Delia reiterated the Opposition’s call for the resignation of the police commissioner and the Attorney General.

Swiss leaks

The Prime Minister reiterated this evening that he was committed to publish the names of politically exposed persons on the Swiss leaks list but only after tax investigations were concluded.

Swiss leaks was an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that exposed a tax dodging scheme by HSBC bank's Swiss branch that was shrouded in secrecy. Published in 2015, the investigation showed that former Nationalist ministers Michael Falzon and Ninu Zammit had stashed cash in Switzerland.

The Maltese government managed to get the full list of Maltese clients for further tax investigations and at the time Muscat had promised he would publish the names of PEPs. Two years later the names have not been published.