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Auberge de FIAU

June 3 can be a big day for Malta. We have a stark choice to make: do we want an Auberge de Castille running Malta, or an Auberge de Money Laundering? This is the question we are going to answer through our vote in this extraordinary election.

The facts of the case are all there, in the Panama Papers leak of 11.5 million documents, together with the leak of the investigations conducted by our very own anti-money laundering unit (FIAU) into our men in high places.

Ever since Joseph Muscat’s right hand man and his energy/special minister at the Auberge de Castille were caught out with secret companies in Panama, hidden in secret trusts half a world away, we have been treated to an instruction in money-laundering.

And as more shocking and damning revelations and documents surface, including investigations by the anti-money laundering unit on Muscat’s right hand man and Pilatus Bank regarding kickbacks to Muscat’s closest political person, we’ve had more than enough proof that at Castille Place we rather have an Auberge de Money Laundering, tragically destroying the hard-earned reputation Malta had worked for so hard over three decades.

A country being run by an Auberge de Money Laundering has huge negative effects on our industries – financial services and gaming in particular – which in turn affect other industries like the rental market and the property market.  Most industries are interlinked; financial services and gaming have created a high-end rental market making it attractive for investment in buy-to-let. Financial services and gaming were built by Nationalist governments on the good reputation of Malta, passing the Prevention of Money Laundering Act in 1994 and setting up a serious and effective anti-money laundering unit.

Reputation takes decades to build, but only a moment to lose. An Auberge de Money Laundering has wrought huge damage on our cutting-edge industries; damage that will only increase further if we continue telling investors that Malta does not take money laundering seriously, let alone condoning money laundering in our highest of government levels.

The facts have been similar to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the box showing you the picture

Money laundering is the devious method adopted to give legitimacy to dirty money derived from crime, such as kickbacks and drug proceeds. What the money launderer seeks to do is to hide his identity behind complex layers of secret companies and secret bank accounts, deposit the dirty money in a bank account under the guise of legitimate business, possibly circulate the money between accounts and companies, and eventually use that dirty money for some normal ‘investment’.

The end result is that what started out as dirty money ends up in the normal banking system. The money launderer gets away with it and lives the rest of his life in luxury… unless caught.

Since February last year, we have had a plethora of facts being revealed in the independent press, about secret companies and secret bank accounts for Muscat’s closest associates and their partners in secret deals, such as Azerbaijan and the Chinese negotiator of Enemalta’s sale to China.

All these facts have been similar to the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the box showing you the picture. But even if you don’t know what the picture is at the outset, you don’t need all the pieces to get to know what it is. And, as more facts are revealed – whether from the Panama Papers leaks or ex-employees spilling the beans or the investigations of our anti-money laundering unit – the picture is now all too clear: grand corruption at the topmost level of the government.

With the facts, we can and should exercise logic. Even at the level of a band or sports club, when a president or committee finds out the treasurer with his hands in the kitty, the treasurer is immediately dismissed. No question about that. Only if the president or committee are getting their share, do they defend the treasurer and cover up the facts.

This is what has been happening in Malta for more than a year now. There is no question that Muscat should have kicked out both his right-hand man and his special minister the minute they were exposed. Muscat should have then done so a second time when he came to know – whether through the independent press or otherwise – of the investigation of the anti-money laundering unit about kickbacks to his right-hand man through accounts at Pilatus Bank.

The fact that Muscat has been defending them both, rather than kicking them out twice over, is hugely damning for Muscat. Logic alone shows that Muscat has made himself an accomplice, not the doyen of accountability, transparency and meritocracy he purported to be a short four years ago.

Instead of those promises, we now get a collapse of our very system of justice, with our Attorney General and the Police Commissioner covering up for Muscat’s closest associates.

In this election, we should not have been speaking about kickbacks and money laundering in high places. We should not have been speaking about Muscat’s men opening secret companies on the very morrow of their oath of office. We should not have been speaking about investigations into the men running Malta.

We should not have been asking who the Prime Minister is, whether Muscat or Keith Schembri. We should not have been talking about Panama and Pilatus.

The fact that we are is the most compelling reason for making sure that, come June 3, we choose to get an Auberge de Castille, rather than an Auberge de Money Laundering.

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