During the highly-anticipated assessment by Moneyval, the anti-money laundering agency spent €63,000 on paid content and interviews in selected media outlets, mostly in English language media.
In a concerted effort to push forward a positive image about its efforts to combat money laundering, following severe criticism by international organisations and experts and scandals that continue to haunt the country, the FIAU has confirmed, in response to questions by The Shift, its expenditure on positive content published in The Times of Malta, Malta Today, The Malta Independent and Lovin Malta.
In most cases, the media houses followed established rules and marked the information as paid content. Yet there were exceptions where the paid content appeared as news, indistinguishable from genuine reports by journalists.
The FIAU has declined to provide information on how much was paid to each newsroom and it has also failed to explain the need to pay media houses for positive content. Newsrooms would generally report achievements by the agency.
Yet the FIAU confirmed that it has embarked on a media information blitz and has so far spent €63,000.
The public relations push includes an online survey, a number of online and print articles and video interviews with key FIAU officials. In most cases, the content published was provided by the FIAU itself.
Describing the ongoing spend as a “public awareness campaign”, the FIAU told The Shift that the initiative forms “part of an FIAU outreach programme” to ensure that “the public understands that money laundering is not a victimless crime and that the fight against money laundering is a fight against crime in general”.
The FIAU added that is not using any PR agency to help it reach the media but is doing this directly through its internal communications office.
In 2019, Moneyval slammed the island for its lack of effective monitoring and prosecution of financial crimes. Hundreds of thousands have been spent since then by the government, the MFSA and the FIAU to portray the image that lessons have been learnt.
These institutions were under heavy fire due to Malta’s failure to uphold the rule of law and prosecute money launderers.
Malta is not yet out of trouble as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will follow Moneyval’s technical assessment to determine whether the country is reclassified as a high-risk jurisdiction. The decision is expected to be taken later this month.
The FATF is an independent inter-governmental body that develops and promotes policies to protect the global financial system against money laundering, terrorist financing and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Examples of concern in Malta include Pilatus Bank and Satabank, as well as cases including key political figures, particularly the former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Although, in some cases, the FIAU had attempted to do its part and pass on reports to the police on suspected criminal conduct, the police sat on the intelligence for years and did not move forward with investigations, most notably on the Panama Papers.
In 2018, the FIAU’s failures led the European Banking Authority (EBA) to conclude that the agency had itself breached the anti-money laundering directive as it had failed to conduct effective supervision of the now-defunct Pilatus Bank.
Following pressure from Moneyval, the FIAU has been upping its efforts. Prosecutions have also increased dramatically in a clear effort to placate concerns.