Malta’s lack of action on Panama Papers leading to backlash against journalists

Report highlights Malta’s lack of action on Panama Papers and the backlash against journalists

The Council of Europe's Special Rapporteur Pieter Omtzigt meeting Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat (centre), Foreign Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela (left) and Justice Minister Owen Bonnici (right) on the investigation into Daphne Caruana Galizia's assassination. Photo: Jason Borg / DOI.

Malta’s treatment of journalists and its attitude to media freedom have come under criticism again, this time in a report by the Reuters Institute and Oxford University that analysed the backlash against journalists in the wake of stories published on evidence in the the Panama Papers.

Malta ranked poorly in terms of action taken, and the impact of the leaks on public policy and lawmaking. Yet it attained a high score for backlash against those journalists reporting the issue.

Entitled ‘Gauging the Global impacts of the ‘Panama Papers: Three Years Later’, the report presents compelling evidence of the impact that investigative journalism can have when it comes to prompting authorities to hold individuals accountable while bringing long term change.

The leak involved 11.5 million documents from the Mossack Fonseca database. The firm was represented in Malta by Nexia BT, which also set up the companies for the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Minister Konrad Mizzi.

Ranking alongside some of the world’s poorest press freedom jurisdictions such as China, Turkey and Russia, Malta was singled out as having one of the most extreme instances of press backlash – the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The report also noted that action on PIlatus Bank was taken by European regulators as opposed to national law enforcement authorities.

While Malta has failed to act on the findings revealed by the Panama Papers, with those exposed as having set up companies a few days after the 2013 election remaining at the helm of government, the report shows that 20% of countries have seen concrete reform such as a new law or policy designed to address an issue highlighted through the reporting.

Countless companies and individuals have been prosecuted for tax issues and almost half of all countries named have been involved in significantly higher levels of intelligence gathering. High level reforms have been made across Europe and North America.

Armenia re-opened a corruption probe into a top law-enforcement official and member of parliament, US authorities arrested an American citizen, and a provincial minister was taken into custody in Pakistan.

Iceland’s Prime Minister stepped down after two days, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was forced to resign, imprisoned and barred from ever holding public office again.

Members of the public have also been subject to tax enforcement, fees, fines, and the recouping of back taxes.

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