Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 June, 2021 at 9:59 pm by Andre Camilleri
The FATF’s decision to grey list Malta was “unjust” and “undeserved,” Prime Minister Robert Abela said this evening.
Addressing a press conference alongside Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, Abela said he would have preferred it if the FATF verdict was announced officially, but felt he had to address the nation after the result was leaked to the media.
“I feel that Malta did not deserve such a result. While I feel that the decision was unjust, Malta will continue building on the reforms it has implemented so far. We are doing this out of conviction, we believe in strong governance. This is a sacrosanct principle for us.”
Abela said he wants to ensure that our families and businesses have the best possible regulatory framework and rights.
“Entities involved in the fight against money laundering defended Malta’s case and explained all that we have achieved over the past years. At no point did we forget Malta’s interest or take a position that can weaken the prosperity of Maltese families and businesses,” the PM said.
The PM said the Moneyval report was a positive one that showed that Malta is among the most compliant countries. “There was no instance where Malta was found to be non-compliant or semi-compliant.”
“We will continue to dialogue to convince that Malta is improving in this field. We will continue bringing about positive change where it is needed. We are doing this for our people. We will continue doing this irrespective of today’s verdict. Will continue working to attract foreign investment.”
More than ever, we need to work with a spirit of ‘Team Malta,’ Abela continued.
“There might be those who choose to play the partisan game. That is up to them. On our part, we will look ahead and keep working to strengthen this sector.”
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said over the past days he conveyed the message that Malta has done a lot and will continue working to strengthen its anti-money laundering framework in the coming months. “We did this so that the partners we work with see in us a loyal partner.”
The Finance Ministry will continue working to ensure that, in the coming weeks, Malta satisfies all criteria, and the country exits the FATF procedure.
Caruana assured that he will not be downgrading the country’s financial targets and figures. The government, he said, will continue attracting investment and creating jobs, just like it has done over the past 8 years. He said the government will mitigate the effects of the FATF verdict “in the best possible way.”
Fielding questions, Abela said Malta had made “giant leaps” when it came to implementing the Moneyval recommendations. The FATF looks more at the effectiveness of these changes. Malta argued that its laws are effective and will continue “confirming” this in the coming weeks.
Caruana said he is not anticipating any “shocks” on the country’s finances, and Malta is expected to reach its targets.
Asked if he feels that this is a result of lax regulation under Labour administrations, Abela said this had been an endemic problem, but the PL government had made great improvements, as confirmed by Moneyval.
He conceded that episodes like the Panama Papers had not helped, just like other episodes in previous years had also not helped. Asked if it was time to scrap the passport scheme, Abela said the programme had been greatly improved, adding that he would say more once the official verdict was out.
On whether an apology was warranted, Abela said the important thing is that the government continues working and building on its own recent reforms.
Abela said he will bow his head down to the FATF decision because he believes in the institutions. “Instead of complaining, we will see this challenge as an opportunity.”
Asked whether the government would now call a general election, Abela said the PL has a mandate to govern until 2022.
Abela said how long Malta remains under increased monitoring depends on the work that will be done in the coming months.
Asked about calls for the resignation of Central Bank governor Edward Scicluna, formerly Malta’s Finance Minister, Abela said now is not the time to point fingers. Malta, he said, had done all it had been asked to do.
On whether he would cooperate with the Opposition on its proposed task force, the PM noted the “contradiction” between what PN Leader Bernard Grech told the FATF last week and what he said today.
“Last week he invited the FAFT to come to the decision it took today. Now, he seems to have had a change of heart. Or he doesn’t know how the FATF works. He certainly does not understand what Malta did over the past couple of years,” the PM said, adding that a task force already exists.
Clyde Caruana downplayed concerns, saying that any effects will not be felt overnight. “What we are speaking about is a process that the country will be following to address some shortcomings.”
Abela said “we are determined to implement all that will be on the action plan by October. In October, we can request an on-site visit where FATF experts can come over and see what we have done. This can lead to a more positive verdict at the next plenary, but we need to be realistic and keep our feet on the ground.”