Underwhelming Asset Recovery Bureau has seized just €18,000 since 2020

Besides cash seizures, 23 vehicles and 175 items of clothing were also seized

 

The Asset Recovery Bureau (ARB), initially set up in 2015 to “escalate the fight against serious crime” through the seizure of proceeds and assets obtained through criminal activity, seized a total of €18,802, 23 vehicles and 175 items of clothing from 1 January, 2020 to 30 October, 2021.

The information emerged following a parliamentary question filed by Opposition MP Claudio Grech. Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis answered the question on Tuesday. Besides seizures through the ARB, the Court Services Agency’s asset management unit seized an additional €43,608 in the same time period.

Overall, the ARB has been plagued by issues since it was originally set up by then Justice Minister Owen Bonnici in 2015. Bonnici had emphasised that the bureau was set up to act as an independent body since, according to the minister, “the only way to successfully fight criminality is to ensure whoever got rich through illegal conduct loses any assets obtained from dirty money”.

However, the reality is that to begin with, the ARB lay dormant for around three years until the first signs of activity began to pick up, a year after the bureau was officially empowered to not just confiscate but also sell off assets obtained through criminal activity on 1 October, 2017.

One of the main issues reported by the chairman of the board that was set up to coordinate the ARB’s activity was the lack of expertise, with both the police force and the inland revenue department failing to adequately support the bureau through the provision of trained, experienced officers.

A highly embarrassing moment for the ARB occurred when, in August 2019, the bureau sold off a Ferrari vehicle for the bargain-bin price of €36,505, a vehicle which was seized from Italian national Davide Sapienza following his arrest in Malta in 2013 and a subsequent conviction in Italy.

The Maltese state was later obliged to pay Sapienza €70,000 in compensation after a constitutional court judgement decreed that Sapienza’s human rights were breached because he had never been convicted of a crime in Malta and a case was still ongoing at the time.

This event exposed a lacuna in the ARB’s legislative framework, which did not give the bureau the authority to seize such a vehicle in that context even though there was an actual conviction on record.

News reports revealed how the ARB also spent most of 2021 without a CEO, with an overall lack of any kind of high-profile seizures suggesting that the bureau has failed to make any measurable impact on organised crime in the past six years it’s existed. In fact, international evaluation bodies like Moneyval and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) have regularly assessed it as the worst-performing unit in terms of Malta’s fight against organised crime.

In particular, eyebrows were raised at the rejection of the appointment of superintendent George Cremona from the counter-terrorism unit, after Zammit-Lewis flagged potential conflict of interest issues related to Cremona’s marriage to Magistrate Monica Vella.

Earlier this year, one of the few times the ARB made headlines related to its work was when news broke of its paltry auction of a 30-year-old Fiat Hatchback valued at €300 and a 26-year-old speedboat worth €2,800.

In September, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa’ was appointed to the ARB’s board, with Joseph David Camilleri, an ex-judge, as chairperson and Frankie Mercieca, former CEO for the court agency, as deputy chairperson, as well as FIAU head Kenneth Farrugia and Inland Revenue Commissioner Marvin Gaerty as board members.

                           
                               
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Malta is chaos
Malta is chaos
1 month ago

Not surprised, given that the ARB limits its activities to send emails to ask whether local financial services have property of criminals.

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