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The world reacts while Malta continues to look the other way

Konrad Mizzi drawing
Photo: ICIJ

The very first person to be charged in the US in connection with the Panama Papers revelations has just appeared before a New York Court.

Entering a plea of ‘not guilty’, accountant Richard Gaffey was one of four men arrested in December on a range of charges including money laundering, tax evasion, and failing to file tax returns.

Another of the men taken into custody at the time, an employee of Mossack Fonesca, was recently extradited to Germany for assisting his clients in defrauding the American tax authorities.

A third man, Ramses Owens has been charged with conspiracy to commit tax evasion and money laundering and is awaiting court proceedings.

Since the Panama Papers leak entered the public domain, action has been taken globally against those found to have been complicit in financial crimes with many stepping aside, being prosecuted, and serving prison sentences.

The Prime Minister of Iceland resigned two days after he was linked to an offshore company. The Prime Minister of Pakistan was banned for life from holding public office and sentenced to 10 years in prison, and in India a staggering 426 individuals were investigated, and a number of steps taken to punish those found guilty of wrongdoing.

With action being taken all over the world as a result of the fallout from the Panama Papers, one has to question why in Malta it is business as usual.

Panama Papers leak impact
Photo: ICIJ

Both Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri retain their positions as senior members of the government, and Nexia BT – the firm that set up the web of offshore companies, continues business as usual.

Persistent attempts to launch magisterial enquiries into the conduct of these two individuals, as well as Electrogas stakeholder Yorgen Fenech, the owner of 17 Black have been refused and rejected with no means of appeal.

Documents from the Panama Papers were enough to press charges against four individuals in the US. It is the evidence being presented in court by the prosecution.

One such document refers to a suspicious transaction labelled as a “gift” which immediately raised red flags with the authorities, while “loan payments” between Schembri and Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna remain a question mark in Malta.

It also came to light that Karl Cini of Nexia BT was found to have repeatedly concealed the true ownership of the companies owned by Mizzi and Schembri from the FIAU.

They also told the money laundering investigation further astray by stating that all communication was verbal and that no written or electronic records existed as well as omitting to mention the email instructing Mossack Fonesca to open bank accounts for each company.

Anyone can refer to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) guidelines on the matter, and it is easy to understand Schembri and Mizzi were up to no good. Even the suspicion of an attempt to launder money is illegal under Maltese law, something those occupying positions in our courts, failed to realise.

Unfortunately, here in Malta, members of the public that have requested magisterial inquiries have been asked to provide the same level of evidence that the inquiry should yield, before such an inquiry can be opened.

These same individuals have then been accused of constituting as a “threat to the rule of law” by members of the Labour Party – a blatant lie and deliberate attempt to misinform and manipulate the electorate.

The threat to the rule of law in Malta comes from the government. The Venice Commission made that clear when concluding Malta was not a functioning democracy, heavily criticising the undue influence that the government wields over the legal system and the judiciary.

There is little confidence left in the country’s courts if you want to hold a member of the Labour Party accountable.

As jurisdictions from Asia to America hold their financial criminals accountable, in Malta it is those who ask for justice who are labelled ‘crooks’.

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