Corruption scandals have engulfed the government and are now casting a shadow over the island’s EU presidency, Transparency International has warned.

The compilers of the Corruption Perception Index told the Times of Malta yesterday they were following the political developments in Malta closely.

“We are aware of the situation in Malta. The government has been criticised for not addressing conflicts of interest, particularly public officials’ role in the private sector… a series of corruption scandals that have engulfed Malta’s Labour government in the past year are also casting a shadow over the island’s first presidency of the Council of the EU,” Valentina Rigamonti, the organisation’s Western Europe coordinator said.

Among the main corruption allegations facing the government are claims that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, received kickbacks from the sale of citizenship to three Russian nationals.

Mr Schembri denies any wrongdoing and the matter is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry.

Earlier this year, Malta tumbled 10 places in the Transparency International’s corruption index, falling to 47th place, its lowest ranking since the survey first started in 2004.

Only six other European Union member states had fared worse than Malta: Italy, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia.

Asked whether the prevailing political situation in Malta would have any bearing on the next edition of the index, a spokeswoman said the study was published on an annual basis with the next instalment not due until the beginning of 2018.

Ms Rigamonti said there were other matters of concern affecting Malta’s corruption perception.

Rules surrounding beneficial ownership, she noted, were still “very loose” in Malta.

“It is still very easy for a beneficial owner to remain confidential unless there is any evidence that the company or the beneficial owner is involved in money laundering,” Ms Rigamonti added.

To help combat this, Ms Rigamonti said the Maltese government should introduce a beneficial owner register with the competent authorities.

Addressing an anti-corruption summit in London last year, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he was committed to establishing a central register of the real ultimate owners of companies.

Questions sent to the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday were still unanswered at the time of writing.

Ms Rigamonti said Transparency International had a number of other recommendations for the country to help combat corruption.

She called for a strengthening of the regulations governing conflicts of interests, such as the code of conduct and ethics for people in public life.

It also called for the Commission Against Corruption to be strengthened. This, Ms Rigamonti said, would ideally see the commission given new powers to investigate corruption allegations.

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