Prime Minister Robert Abela on Sunday lashed out at Opposition leader Bernard Grech accusing him of wanting Malta to be greylisted by anti-money laundering assessors.
In an interview on the Labour Party’s ONE radio, Abela weighed in on the evaluation of Malta’s anti-money laundering regime, describing it as a crucial and delicate moment for the country.
On Tuesday, evaluators from the Financial Action Task Force met in Paris and discussed whether Malta should be put on a list of countries that are not doing enough to stop major financial crime.
The country was given mixed reviews by experts and a plenary vote of FATF members will be held on Wednesday. Greylisting could seriously impact the country’s economy.
It is understood that the US, Germany, and the UK are taking a tough position on Malta.
Last week, Grech wrote an open letter to the FATF, saying the PN, as an alternative government, would work with the FATF to restore the reputation which Malta has lost.
Abela on Sunday said he was dumbfounded by Grech’s letter as it seemed to imply that the Opposition wanted the country to end up on the grey list.
Countries on the grey list have to work with the FATF to implement an action plan of reforms.
“I ask myself why that letter was sent, and why would a politician be willing to do such damage to the country?” Abela said, adding that the letter was sent “at the most delicate of stages”.
At best, Abela said he would give Grech the benefit of the doubt that he was not informed of how the FATF technical process worked.
However, on reading the letter, it seemed to imply that Grech wanted Malta to be put on the grey list.
Grech on Sunday defended his decision to write to the FATF, saying he was doing his part in defending the country.
Abela meanwhile, said he had never expected Grech to turn the FATF evaluation process into a petty political exercise.
The issues being flagged by international anti-money laundering experts had not begun when Labour came to power, but were systematic shortcomings that stretched back decades. Previous administrations, he said, had simply swept a lot of these issues under the rug.
Abela said that his administration, particularly after January 2020 but also before,had done a lot to try and address these shortcomings, introducing a suite of legal reforms across a number of areas.
The government, he added, was committed to continue working to improve the island’s regulatory and law enforcement regime.
The government is understood to be lobbying international partners to avoid grey-listing come Wednesday.
The FATF plenary delegates can either decide to go ahead with grey-listing Malta, or it can ask another entity within the Council of Europe to carry out further monitoring of the country.
This monitoring would mean more hand-holding for local regulators but would not cause any major reputational damage to the country that Malta fears could be brought on by grey-listing.
The FATF grey list does not imply any specific sanctions, however, it does serve as a warning to the international community that the country is not doing enough to stop major financial crime and therefore cannot be trusted.
There has never been an EU member state on the grey list before and being placed on it could seriously impact Malta’s ability to do business as well as its attractiveness to foreign investors.