The Nationalist Party (PN) proposed a set of amendments to the government’s controversial planned changes to laws on the proceeds of crime that would exclude those accused of corruption from the amendments tabled last year.
Bill 76, which entered the parliament’s agenda late last year, proposes amendments to a set of laws on economic crimes, reining in the courts’ power to freeze the assets of those accused and easing the release of frozen funds.
Legal experts who spoke to The Shift last December on the proposed changes held differing opinions, with some regarding them as a way out of the current “draconian” system and others calling them an “escape route” for suspected criminals.
The proposed bill would limit freezing orders levied against those accused of financial crime to a smaller portion of their funds and introduce appeals processes for such orders.
The prosecution will be required to identify which of the accused’s assets must be frozen, in contrast to a blanket freeze. Experts who spoke to The Shift identified this as the most important change.
In a press release on Tuesday afternoon, Opposition Shadow Minister for Justice Karol Aquilina claimed the PN’s proposed changes were intended to “stop the government from weakening the fight against criminals,” claiming it is “common knowledge why Robert Abela is rushing the implementation of this bill.”
The Opposition proposed for the changes not to apply to cases where the accused faces charges of corruption.
They said the exclusion, which is already planned to apply to cases of drug crime, would “mean those accused of corruption would not be able to enjoy the benefits of the bill being rushed by the government.”
Additionally, Aquilina called for another amendment which proposes that before any of the accused’s funds are released by the courts, they “would need to prove that such funds did not come from a criminal source.”
Aquilina claimed that if the opposition’s proposal is ignored, “it would be a confirmation that [prime minister] Robert Abela is nothing better than a bad copy of [former prime minister] Joseph Muscat.”
If introduced in the government’s proposed form, the repercussions of this new law are far-reaching.
One example is the allegations against disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat on money received from companies such as Accutor in the Vitals/Steward hospitals deal.
If such a case were to proceed to court, the only assets that would be held back would be those directly related to this case, despite Muscat being implicated in several other corruption cases.