Sunday

11th Apr 2021

Opinion

Malta must act quickly to avoid blacklisting

  • Valletta, the capital of EU member state Malta. (Photo: Berit Watkin)

It can be surprising in this day and age to learn that some states' law enforcement agencies are incapable of mounting even basic financial crime enquiries, especially when the state concerned is Malta, where allegations of personal and political corruption continue to propagate.

Malta may only be a small island, but it has been the focus of much attention concerning some serious matters (including at least one murder), that appear to have been politically-motivated or arising from the corruption associated with organised crime.

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Sadly, as the people of Malta are discovering, the two tend to go hand-in-hand.

Among other things, Malta has found herself targeted by organised crime gangs who see her as an excellent location to launder their illicit money.

A recent Times of Malta article by Jacob Borg paints a stark picture.

The Maltese police force has been singled out by the Council of Europe's Moneyval report, calling into question their ability (or willingness) to engage criminals using the tools available to them through financial investigation.

These tools and powers appear to have been left on the shelf, with little police appetite to pick them up and wield them in anger.

Those of us whose professional life revolves around the investigation of international fraud and corruption will appreciate that there can be little excuse for the Maltese government to allow its police force to fall into such disrepute.

Malta finds itself on the cusp of being financially blacklisted, which for a small island and economy could be devastating.

In this day and age, the Maltese police cannot be seen to be hiding (or being hindered) behind a lack of training and resource issues. This report should serve as a wake up call for the Maltese government.

Assassinated journalist

The island has already seen the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The subsequent investigation appears to have experienced some severe shortcomings, including the fact that the three suspects have questionable sources of income, with one enjoying a lavish lifestyle despite being unemployed or lowly paid.

Where a murder enquiry is concerned, it is incumbent on the police to use every tool in their kit to bring the culprits to justice.

Financial crime investigative measures are now embedded into the fabric of most major police investigations.

The teams undertaking investigations into serious and organised crime, including murder, have an embedded financial investigator or access to the same.

In the UK for example, senior detectives must receive financial investigation input as part of their Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) training and accreditation process, in order to raise their awareness of how powerful a tool it can be.

By following the money and identifying criminal assets, the police can very quickly identify motive, and in some instances, who has been paid to undertake the crime concerned.

The ensuing money laundering process can drag other individuals into the investigative mix. In effect, financial investigation should be close to the core of all major criminal enquiries.

But the Maltese government's vulnerability isn't limited to the ways in which their police investigate crime.

By failing to do so effectively, in particular their lack of financial investigation resources, Malta becomes a target for the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), Transparency International, and other international overseers whose role is to encourage the introduction of effective regulation, designed to frustrate those who would abuse financial institutions.

The fact that Malta has been highlighted in the report could also be placing thousands of jobs at risk, according to the Maltese opposition leader, Adrian Delia.

Malta needs to drag itself into the 21st century. Unless it does so, the nation will continue to be exploited by crooks from across the globe, and ultimately find herself blacklisted with all the negativity that comes with being highlighted as failing to supervise her financial sector.

Insofar as murder investigations are concerned, as in the case of Caruana Galizia, financial investigation must be one of the SIO's go-to tactical options to tease out all the intelligence that may prevent a similar murder.

Author bio

Martin Kenney is managing partner of Martin Kenney & Co. Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset recovery practice based in the British Virgin Islands, focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud and grand corruption cases. Tony McClements is a senior investigator at Martin Kenney & Co. and former UK police officer specialising in fraud, and now lecturer in these subjects at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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