We knew the writing was on the wall when Evarist Bartolo took to Facebook to utter his usual cryptic nonsense, this time accusing big countries of “getting away with murder” and topping it up with nationalist rhetoric. After watching his disastrous interview with Conflict Zone’s Tim Sebastian, one could be forgiven for thinking he knows a thing or two about that.
Robert Abela held a press conference immediately after the verdict was published, pouting at the camera and claiming FATF’s decision is “unjust” and “not deserved” but he will accept it.
What choice does he have? Still, he insisted: “Businesses will continue to find this government at their service. We will continue to work to generate business and investment – both local and foreign”.
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana is in denial, too. “We will not be reviewing our plans for economic growth or our financial targets,” he said, adding, “I am certain that the country will continue to work”.
Does he really believe being the first EU country to make the world’s money laundering and terrorist financing grey list won’t have serious economic consequences?
In crying “unfair” they’re deliberately blurring the distinction between Moneyval and FATF, insisting that passing one means passing the other, and the only reason Malta failed to clear the second hurdle was — take your pick — big countries bullying a small country, jealousy of Malta, or powerful domestic traitors poisoning everyone against a country many had never heard of until a journalist was killed in broad daylight in a mafia-style hit.
We can clear this smokescreen with a couple of breezy paragraphs.
Moneyval looks at what’s on paper. Did Malta pass the laws it was told to pass? Have you hired enough compliance officers and enough trained investigators? Are the regulations robust on paper?
The government attacked this list frantically, ticking off just enough boxes to scrape by with a pass. But paper laws are only as good as their enforcement.
Malta’s had robust laws for decades. The problem is that every institution tasked with enforcing them was stuffed with political cronies, or politically compromised stooges like Lawrence Cutajar, Ian Abdilla, Ray Aquilina and Peter Grech who placed loyalty to Joseph Muscat above doing their jobs.
That’s what FATF looks at. What has Malta actually done? Do those laws that look so nice on paper lead to actual convictions, or are some animals more equal than others?
A desperate flurry of last minute arrests — including the powerful Keith Schembri, on what are some of the more minor indiscretions he’s been linked to — wasn’t enough.
Convictions are what count here, and when it comes to convictions, Malta’s spent nearly eight years showing the world it doesn’t have any — apart from a love of money and a willingness to do anything to get more of it.
The die was cast in 2017 when the people voted to reelect Joseph Muscat in an election fought on corruption. Those fools who celebrated in front of Pilatus Bank were a symbol of the many who chose short term gain.
I laid out the consequences of this choice in the first political article I wrote on Malta, published in Running Commentary. It was obvious even back then that reelecting Joseph Muscat would lead to several obvious endpoints.
I said Europe would shut down Malta’s passport peddling scheme when the risk to the security of fellow Member States became obvious. The recent opening of infringement proceedings is the beginning of the end, but like a heroin addict, the government will fight tooth and nail to prevent its addiction from being cut off.
I said Malta’s banks would come under increasingly harsh scrutiny. When every transaction requires reams of documents, and compliance officers examine each transfer to make sure it’s legit, business clients will get tired of the delays and added costs and move on. Associated banks will also get tired of the added compliance costs involved in dealing with Malta.
Bank of Valletta’s failure to find a new correspondent banking relationship is the result, and it won’t be alone. The government’s excuse — that it’s just a routine de-risking exercise — is nonsense.
I said the gaming companies would come under scrutiny, too, as regulators grow increasingly alarmed at the amount of dirty money being washed through an industry where politically appointed ‘persons of trust’ were either unqualified for their jobs, or turning a blind eye to such transactions as long as the money continued to flow.
The bursting of the property bubble will be the last blow to fall.
Now that the pariah label of greylisting has finally been reached, the bankers’ union, the Employers Association, the Institute of Financial Services Practitioners and others have stepped out of the shadows to call on ‘all stakeholders’ to help Malta “regain credibility”. But regaining one’s reputation is a lot more difficult than never soiling it in the first place.
These are not “past failures” or inherited shortcomings being singled out by the FATF. The issues that got Malta flagged as a global financial pariah are ongoing, and it doesn’t take a detective to see them.
There’s only one way out of this mess, and it has little to do with implementing further reforms to paper over legal cracks.
Investigate — I mean, really investigate — Electrogas, the Montenegro wind farm deal, the Vitals deal, Pilatus Bank, the so-called American University, the passport programme, the Malta traffic police scandal, the takeover-by-promotion of the Armed Forces, the brutal murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia, every politician and regulator linked to Yorgen Fenech and Paul Apap Bologna, and all those dodgy property deals.
Investigate the laundry list of crimes linked to or facilitated by members of government since 2013, and then prosecute and convict those responsible for them.
Malta’s failure to do this is the reason the FATF flagged it as a global money laundering and terrorist financing risk. Malta will remain a risk as long as this situation continues.
Unfortunately, you’re in for a long, hard ride, and I fear it’s going to get ugly when regular people start feeling the pinch.
Oh sure, those who orchestrated the criminal takeover of an EU Member State will be fine. They don’t keep their money in Malta where an honest cop might get hold of it. But they will lash out when their backs are against the wall.
You should expect them to pull the ‘small country’ card, and to deflect blame onto domestic ‘traitors’, honest journalists, and protesting citizens. It’s Malta against the West again, and anyone who dares criticise the government is siding with the foreigner.
Unfortunately, Labour’s old patron was sodomised with a bayonet and beaten to death in the streets by his own people. Gaddafi won’t bail out the budget this time. I suppose there’s always China, if you’re willing to pay the price.
You’ve been led to this point because Robert Abela and Joseph Muscat chose greylisting over personal accountability.
They’d rather bring an entire country to its knees — and destroy the livelihood of tens of thousands of citizens — than take responsibility for what they’ve done.