There are moments still, that one has to shake one’s head to be sure this isn’t all just a bad dream. Tiny Malta risks being thrown out into the cold, the work of two and a half decades undone in eight short years by a gang of criminals masquerading as politicians. And the pilots who took us so far off course are now either absent, in denial or flailing desperately, blustering and bullying their way into an even more dangerous patch of water.
The Finance Minister, Clyde Caruana, so utterly unsuited to the job that I cringe whenever I see a photo of him, has issued a challenge to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that is set to decide tomorrow whether to put Malta on its grey list or not.
We won’t be blackmailed, he swaggered on Monday. We won’t give everything up just to please you, he declared belligerently.
Foolish man. Incompetent, ignorant, unprepared and uneducated man. Is it possible he hasn’t understood the consequences that await us if he fails at his mission to persuade the US, the UK and Germany to give us a reprieve?
Malta is in no position to be hectoring the very judges who will decide our fate. Sadly, this kind of behavior is par for the course with unintelligent, guilty people without a leg to stand on. They believe that by pounding their chests, they’re somehow going to distract observers away from the main issues. They believe strutting arrogance will somehow magically divert attention and allow them to win the argument.
What delusion. To use playground tactics as their only strategy to pull Malta back from the brink of catastrophe. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be pitiable.
Though it’s not at all surprising he’s resorting to this typical PL spitting and kicking, back-against-the-wall type of behavior though. Because he really is in desperate straits.
Malta has several institutions that are crucial in the anti-money-laundering context:
The FIAU, despite having acted belatedly on (only) one of the many reports of corruption and money-laundering its own officers had uncovered, incredibly still boasting a deputy director who wrote a letter giving Pilatus Bank the all-clear despite the truckloads of evidence that the bank had been set up with one purpose and one purpose alone;
The MFSA, being run by an interim CEO since its former CEO Joe Cuschieri was forced to resign after having been caught enjoying Las Vegas jaunts with accused murderer, money-launderer and casino boss Yorgen Fenech, all the while paying himself extra pocket money of some 23,000 euros for attending board meetings, a job he was supposed to be doing anyway;
And the Malta Gaming Authority, under whose watch a stream of igaming companies were set up and functioning as laundromats for international organised crime networks looking for ways to process their ill-gotten gains.
All of these institutions are so deeply compromised that no amount of window-dressing and last-minute bandaid fixes, no amount of frenzied fines to small operators, or way-too-late enforcement orders, could cover up the rot they’re built upon.
The MFSA, currently under interim CEO Christopher Buttigieg, has been looking for Cuschieri’s replacement since his departure. But Cuschieri’s partner-in-Las Vegas-jaunts, General Counsel Edwina Licari, still works there, while the clueless geriatric Chairman John Mamo mutters about minor peccadillos, nothing to make such a fuss about.
Talk about a fish rotting from the head.
Satabank and Pilatus Bank were the two of the most visible, most outrageous “mistakes” the MFSA made, with the Satabank fiasco alone costing the MFSA 10 million euros in fees to Ernst & Young, who were appointed caretakers by direct order, by shamed former CEO Cuschieri, who was himself also a one-time employee of EY.
And, coincidentally, Cuschieri was also previously CEO of the Malta Gaming Authority, to which post he was appointed by disgraced Prime Minister Joseph Muscat before being moved to the MFSA. Licari, too, hopped neatly from the Gaming Authority into her current post as General Counsel at the MFSA, a post apparently created by Cuschieri specifically for her.
This incestuous game of musical chairs, featuring the same names, their spouses, their chums, all moving around and within the financial services regulatory bodies and organisations, all being paid vast sums of public money to rule their own little roosts and do exactly as they please, is the type of thing that, even without the relentless stream of scandals around them, would cause any regulatory spook to narrow his eyes.
FinanceMalta, for example, the entity set up to promote Malta as a financial services investment location way back in the good, old pre-2013 days, is now run by Bernice Buttigieg, the wife of Christopher Buttigieg, interim CEO of the MFSA. The wife of Junior Minister for Financial Services Silvio Schembri, Deandra, works as a senior manager at the Malta Business Registry.
Central Bank Governor and former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna’s daughter Katya Scicluna Bartoli used to work as an analyst at the MFSA, before being given another plum posting as a senior policy officer at Malta’s permanent representation to the EU in Brussels.
And of course, Scicluna himself, incredibly appointed Central Bank Governor despite having had to leave the Finance Ministry after being put under criminal investigation for his alleged role in the Vitals Hospitals scandal, now also sitting on the board of the MFSA itself – the board of one of the key institutions under the FATF microscope.
Honestly, it all beggars belief.
And yet, Prime Minister Abela’s new resident chump at the Finance Ministry thinks he can bluster about blackmail and not giving in and somehow win over Malta’s harshest critics. Somehow make them feel bad that he’s feeling “blackmailed” and therefore forget their concerns that despite the information from the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, the FIAU itself, there has not yet been a single successful prosecution yet, and only a handful of arrests leading to arraignments.
I saw a photograph yesterday evening, published along with a press release from the ECB about the governing council’s first face-to-face meeting in more than a year. ECB President Christina Lagarde in the centre, with the rest of the governing council members socially-distanced around her. Way out on her far right, a stooped figure in badly-tailored yellow trousers and crumpled cream jacket stands alone. Edward Scicluna, looking glum but defiant. And every bit the pariah figure that Malta is at such grave risk of becoming.