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Don’t shoot the messenger

Just days after a dressing-down by the European Banking Authority, the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit had the temerity to publicly declare that the publication of what it said was secret and illegally-obtained information would have an impact on its “credibility and, therefore, ability to obtain and exchange intelligence from its international counterparts”.

Judging by the EBA’s comments, the FIAU seems to be perfectly able to damage its own reputation. The European watchdog found that the government’s agency “did not effectively monitor and take the necessary measures with a view to ensuring compliance with the requirements of the [EU’s anti-money laundering directive] by [Pilatus Bank]…” Indeed, the EBA found indications of “general and systematic shortcomings” in the FIAUs application of the directive in question.

Credit agency Standard & Poors noted at the beginning of this month that “allegations of money laundering against Pilatus Bank… as well as our perception of poor transparency at some banks, have increased reputational and operational risks for the Maltese banking sector generally”. It further noted: “Even if potential weaknesses in Malta-based internationally-oriented financial institutions do not pose direct risks for the domestic financial stability, the jurisdiction’s reputation could be at risk, in our opinion.” The FIAU must take ‘credit’ for that too.

So, it could hardly be argued that it was Nationalist MP David Casa who damaged the FIAU’s credibility when he released the “secret” information it complained about.

As a people’s deputy, Mr Casa was correct to publish information that indicated possible wrongdoing by those in authority. Indeed, it was his duty to do so as it is the duty of the independent media to expose abuse and keep the powers-that-be on their toes. That is in the public interest and law courts across the globe, not least the European Court of Human Rights, have constantly upheld that role and defended it.

Yet, the FIAU, which has been sliding down a slippery slope following a spate of resignations, shoots itself in the foot declaring it would demand action to be taken against Mr Casa. Like the Spartans did with Darius’s envoys, the agency paid by the State to fight money laundering and terrorism financing opted to attack the messenger rather than ensure that what its own reports recommend is implemented.

At the beginning of this year, it issued a statement saying it always performed “its functions and duties scrupulously without any political interference and has never refrained from carrying out any analysis/investigation when it felt that this was called for, and this irrespective of who the subject of the analysis/investigation was”.

Tell that to the marines. Or, rather, to the Attorney General, the Police Commissioner and to the Prime Minister himself.

The Prime Minister and his men will, no doubt, continue riding on their electoral successes and very favourable polls and will brand anybody they deem as disrupting their plans as enemies of the people.

They evidently give very little thought, if any, to the maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Who knows, their next big project might well be some sort of ‘Enabling’ law, allowing them not to waste time going through lengthy parliamentary procedures if urgent action is needed to ensure the people and the country do no suffer unnecessarily at the hands of ‘enemies’. But that is another subject.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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