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Persisting with impunity

Konrad Mizzi was right on one thing when asked for his reaction to the report on maladministration and money laundering drawn up by a delegation of MEPs after their mission to Malta. What they wrote was “nothing new”, he said.

That, precisely, is the problem – no change in the situation. The report confirms what has been evident for far too long: that Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri sit behind a barrier of protection over their offshore structures and strong evidence revealed in leaked FIAU reports that they used those structures to take kickbacks and launder money. The report affirms the obscene degree of impunity that was and still is afforded to the pair by the Police Commissioner and Attorney General. This emerges from exchanges the MEPs had with key witnesses, the essence of which follows:

MEPs to Police Commissioner: Why did you not start investigations into serious suspicions of money laundering related to the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff?

Police Commissioner: The police have “limited competences” to do so; the FIAU reports were not backed by subsequent reports.

MEPs to Attorney General: Why did you not request the police to start a criminal investigation [when you have the right to do so under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act]?

Attorney General: To issue such investigation order, one must be in possession of concrete evidence in order to stand before the courts. Media reports on serious suspicions of money laundering are not enough. A “reasonable suspicion” of money laundering is needed to ask the court to issue an investigation order to the police [“reasonable suspicion” are precisely the words used by the FIAU in relation to Mr Schembri].

Jonathan Ferris, former police inspector and ex-FIAU officer, to MEPs: The police are expected to prevent money laundering and wrongdoing, not just prosecute. Once the information is public, the police are informed and bound to act. The police have all the legal conditions in place to investigate after a complaint, the filing of a report or information brought to their attention.

Chief Justice: A “reasonable suspicion” is not needed for the police to start a criminal investigation into money laundering. Investigations can be started by the police with simple information of a crime brought to their attention, in any form.

No, the report is “nothing new”. It simply validates the deep concerns over the blatant impunity that have long been expressed locally. By being kept in office, the report adds, chillingly, the Cabinet Minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, “may be continuing the criminal activity”. They must be “swiftly and formally investigated, and brought to justice”. No, nothing new there either.

Several other concerns were underlined by the delegation: over the few cases investigated by the Commission Against Corruption that have resulted in criminal proceedings, over lack of protection for investigative journalists, over weak implementation of anti-money-laundering legislation.

The report’s recommendations read like they’re intended for a democratically backward country and not an EU member: better separation of powers to limit the Prime Minister’s interference in the judiciary, media and police; a government action programme against corruption and financial crime; investigate alleged influence on the election; grant Mr Ferris police protection.

One gasps at the effrontery of the Prime Minister in saying the content of the delegation’s report was “decided beforehand”. Admittedly, Nationalist MEP David Casa should not have been part of the delegation, as his participation could be construed as a conflict of interest. The government is using it to diminish the report’s importance. But for Dr Muscat to dismiss the findings, which pile on the reputational damage to the government and country, is an insult to the European Parliament he once formed part of. Or he is in denial.

The report is nothing new. It only vindicates Daphne Caruana Galizia’s famous last words from her blog: “The situation is desperate.”

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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