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Concern and theatrics - Angelo Micallef

Over the last couple of days, German MEP Sven Giegold managed to do something quite rare in Maltese politics these days; trigger a certain level of political consensus.

Giegold  found it fit to tell the British press that he was actively toying with the idea of triggering a negative publicity campaign against HSBC in order to try and push HSBC to terminate its operations in Malta.

The raison d’être for this course of action provided by Giegold is what he deemed to be inaction on the part of the Maltese government to combat the threat of money laundering. If the British press quoted Giegold correctly, he stated that he would proceed to execute this plan if, according to his judgement, the Maltese government failed to get serious on this matter.

It is no state secret that I am far from this administration’s biggest fan. I have never shied away from being critical when I thought it was fair, right and just to be critical. It is also correct to state that indeed it is every member state’s, including Malta’s, moral, legal and political duty, to ensure that it does not allow itself to be used for illicit ends.

Indeed a country that aspires to provide financial services of excellence needs to ensure that the chances of any incidents that blemish its reputation are non-existent and that when such incidents do occur, every possible legal action is taken against the perpetrators, thus sending a clear message of justice.

Pressuring the Maltese government to adhere to these high standards is not only acceptable but is indeed desirable. As a member state of the European Union, Malta should rightly aspire to be in line with the very best rather than allowing itself to be open to undesirable risks.

There are many ways in which pressure could be applied without putting an entire country’s financial stability at peril. Giegold chose to ignore these paths

Many in Malta would agree that our government needs to do more to safeguard our reputation. Many in Malta would agree that certain political decisions taken over the last five years have served to weaken Malta’s reputation and to expose Malta to greater risk.

That having been said the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of workers and entrepreneurs in the financial services sector are hard-working and enterprising individuals who are proud of their pristine reputation and who would never even entertain the thought of having anything to do with illicit activity for the briefest of moments let alone actually go on to execute something that would build such a link.

The truth of the matter is that our financial services industry has been built by the work of these hard-working and enterprising individuals. Work that has taken years; work that is yet to reach its ultimate potential; work that is a collective effort of many and not the few.

To attack the system by means of targeting one of the major banks on the island is nothing short of putting the very livelihood of these thousand of well-meaning and hard-working individuals at peril. These theatrics would lead to absolutely no losses by those whose intents are less than well-meaning but could possibly be disastrous for the vast majority of honest parties in the industry.

After all, as a German member of the European Parliament, Giegold should be all too familiar with how wrong it can be to put everyone in the firing line. I recall for example a report in the Handelsblatt Global in August, which ran a story with the headline ‘Gangsters’ paradise Germany: A great place for money laundering’.

Would someone be right in putting the livelihood of many well-meaning German financial services professionals at risk simply because the German authorities (who have only quite recently set up a Financial Intelligence Unit) are being sluggish in their approach?

Giegold’s theatrics have quite sadly spoiled any chance of goodwill coming out of his political endeavours, even if well meaning. Indeed he has now revealed that he has no qualms about putting the livelihood of thousands of well-meaning, law-abiding citizens at risk simply to trigger the political earthquake which he feels is needed.

There are many ways in which pressure could be applied without putting an entire country’s financial stability at peril. Giegold chose to ignore these paths and to instead pursue the path of destruction. A sad choice which sadly leaves many with no alternative but to view Giegold’s actions with great wariness in the days to come.

Angelo Micallef is a Nationalist Party election candidate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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