FIAU efforts are no recent PR exercise

Updated on

Alfred Zammit, deputy director FIAU

Last week the FIAU was accused in the press that it was stepping up its efforts as a mere PR exercise after years of inactivity simply to impress. This claim is entirely unfounded and also centred around incorrect, incomplete, misinterpreted and selective use of information. This is not only unjust to the FIAU, but also a disservice to the general public who looks to the media for their information.

The FIAU is merely performing the role it was created for, even though the belief in the critical role of the FIAU has only visibly increased in the past years. This is clearly evidenced by the allocation of increased budgets over recent years, which has allowed for increased recruitment, investment in technology and training to enable the FIAU to perform its role more fully. 

In the fifth Round of the Mutual Evaluation Report, commonly being referred to as the Moneyval Report, the Unit received a number of recommendations. Like any professional organisation, the FIAU duly evaluated these recommendations and openly accepted their validity and has been making every effort to address them; as any organisation worth its salt would do. This is not a PR exercise but a conscious effort to improve, grow and make the necessary changes possible, to achieve the FIAU’s mission. 

The article mentioned the possible greylisting of Malta. This decision in fact will not be made by the Council of Europe nor Moneyval, but by the Financial Action Task Force, and certainly will not be made in the coming weeks, but towards mid-2021. This listing would mean that Malta is placed on a list of “Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring” due to deficiencies in their Anti Money Laundering and Counter-Funding of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. Though a greylisting will be a challenge and have costs to bear; it also sends out a clear message that Malta is undergoing a process of change and is actively seeking and committed to address its shortcomings in the fight against Money Laundering and Funding of Terrorism (ML/FT). The FIAU has clearly invested to ensure that its role in this process is fully performed in the swiftest manner possible.

Within the same article, the FIAU was accused that it looks the other way and has spent years in inactivity. These are entirely unfounded accusations and indicate a lack of knowledge and research into the functions of the FIAU and the legal structures within which it has to operate.  The perception of past inactivity could easily arise from the fact that information about FIAU activities are protected by the need for confidentiality and past legal restrictions. A case in point is the publication of penalties imposed. The reason for this lack of information (interpreted as inactivity) is that the power to publish administrative sanctions was only introduced in February 2015. In addition, between 2015 and 2020 (February), the FIAU could not publish administrative fines that were under appeal. It is for these reasons that as of this point, more information on administrative fines is visible online on the FIAU’s website.

Furthermore, the analysis provided in the press of the fines issued by the FIAU is incorrect. The media house was not in a position to get the full and correct information by merely looking at the FIAU’s website. Contacting the FIAU or referring to the Unit’s annual reports would have resulted in more factual reporting. A closer look at the FIAU annual reports would clearly show that whereas, the article claimed there were no fines in 2019, in actual fact nearly €4m were actually issued.

In addition to this, the heavier fines currently being imposed are not due to the need to impress, but due to a change in the law in relation to penalties which took place in 2018. This revision allowed for heavier penalties to be imposed. The table below will indicate clearly that the heavier fines are no PR stunt but a reflection of this change and the FIAU’s commitment to battle AML/CFT by making good use of this change.

Minimum and maximum fines allowed over the years

2008 – 2014 —— Administrative Fine €250 – €12,500

2014 – 2018 —– Administrative Fine €1,000 – €46,500

2018 – Administrative Fine €250 – €1,000,000 (non-financial business and professions) or €5,000,000 (financial services operators)

A final point that requires clarification is that while the FIAU has the roles of intelligence, analysis, supervision and even guidance, it does not have criminal investigative powers or prosecutorial powers. Therefore, it is not in a position to take action beyond its remit and cannot be held responsible for the inactivity of others.

The FIAU has always carried out its work without fear or favour. The FIAU’s independence and freedom to operate without interference or influence was recognised in the Moneyval report, where it was stated that“the assessment team concluded that the FIAU officers perform their functions freely and objectively without undue influence”. This certainly should put to rest any accusations of hidden agendas and/or political manoeuvring.