The Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit, the government’s anti-money laundering agency, has spent more than €100,000 on public relations activities since 2020, with the most significant spending coinciding with Malta’s greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
The Shift found that €60,000 was spent on sponsored articles, advertorials, and recruitment in news and PR publications between 2021 and 2022 when Malta languished on the grey list due to weak measures to combat money laundering and opaque financing.
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana tabled the data in response to a parliamentary question by Opposition MP Jerome Caruana Cilia asking how much had been spent on PR by the FIAU since 2020.
The tabled data shows that while the FIAU did not ‘talk up’ its work in international publications, it did spend some €75,000 on local news portals and €25,000 on public relations companies.
Following trends noted in media and PR spending by the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), the FIAU’s largest share of media expenditure went to Media Today, the company behind Malta Today, totalling €25,000 since 2020.
The Times of Malta received some €22,000, with LovinMalta and PR company Content House receiving €20,000 each.
The MFSA and the FIAU are connected by more than just spending patterns, as MFSA CEO Kenneth Farrugia was redeployed as the FIAU’s chairman in June, raising eyebrows considering his previous position as the FIAU’s director.
Under Farrugia’s watch, the FIAU had been harshly criticised for a lack of action on a number of money laundering scandals, many involving members of government and officials. The scandals were part of the basis for Malta’s greylisting by the FATF.
The figure does not include spending in the months leading up to Malta’s greylisting, which was characterised by the government’s attempts to downplay the impending decision’s economic effects despite damning reports.
Simultaneously, the data tabled in parliament shows how the government’s financial services regulator and anti-money laundering agency spent thousands on ‘awareness campaigns’.
A series of cases in the constitutional court over the past year have raised serious questions about the FIAU’s effectiveness.
Repeatedly, the courts have ruled that the fines issued by the anti-money laundering agency were unconstitutional, resulting in their annulment and forfeiture.
The cases amounted to more than €1.3 million in lost fines up to September due to flaws in the 2018 legislation governing the FIAU’s enforcement procedures. As a result, the constitutional court repeatedly found the FIAU’s methods breached fundamental rights to independent hearings.