Malta risks an “economic COVID-21” next year unless it acts swiftly to clean up its reputation following further damning revelations of corruption, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has warned, saying those politically responsible should resign. 

Bartolo said that time was fast running out for the country to show that it is serious in the fight against corruption and money laundering, with a crucial assessment just months away. 

“Those involved in corruption, money laundering and tax evasion should be charged in court, their case heard quickly and be made to pay for their crime,” Bartolo said. 

The light.... is still being shaded by ugly political and business affairs that took place between 2013 to 2019.- Evarist Bartolo

Anyone politically responsible should "take a step back of their own will", he added. 

“If we do not do so, Moneyval and the Financial Action Task Force will list us along with countries which do not take serious steps to fight financial crime and from next year we will have an economic Covid-21 which we will struggle to get out of”. 

Bartolo was writing on Facebook in reaction to revelations by Times of Malta and Reuters that an Enemalta wind farm deal in Montenegro allowed murder suspect Yorgen Fenech to secretly pocket millions through his company 17 Black. 

17 Black was named in emails as the source of funds for companies owned by former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi, who was energy minister at the time of the deal. 

"We are in a political eclipse," Bartolo said. "The light that has started shining through since Robert Abela became prime minister is still being masked by ugly political and business affairs that took place between 2013 and 2019". 

Bartolo served as Education Minister during that period. 

On Konrad Mizzi 

Mizzi has denied any link to 17 Black and argued the Montenegro deal was a financial success for Enemalta. Schembri has not commented. 

Joseph Muscat, who was prime minister during the time and who inaugurated the Montenegro project, has said he has "nothing to hide". Muscat is now a backbench Labour MP. 

In his Facebook post, Bartolo said he endorsed Prime Minister Robert Abela’s calls for a full investigation and demand that anyone involved be made to resign. 

Speaking on Friday, Abela made it clear that Mizzi, who is now a Labour backbench MP, would have to go if he was involved. 

“If he is involved, he must either decide to resign, or else I will have to take the decision myself as I did in another case,” Abela said. 

Bartolo said that whoever was politically responsible at the time “should take a step back of their own volition”. 

It is not the first time that Bartolo has publicly called for Mizzi to resign. The Labour minister had said Mizzi should resign back in 2016, after his name cropped up in the Panama Papers, and again late last year during weeks of nationwide tension.

At the time, Bartolo had likened the Labour Party to a strong tree that needed heavy pruning, lest it “get sick and die”. 

Moneyval warning

Bartolo's warning of economic hardship should Malta fail a crucial financial crimes test concerns a scheduled assessment by the Council of Europe's Moneyval monitoring body. 

Malta failed an initial Moneyval test last year and now risks being grey- or blacklisted as a financial jurisdiction unless it makes sufficient progress in addressing shortcomings by the end of the year. 

A poor Moneyval review is expected to make the country far less attractive to foreign investment.  

"Our economy will hurt if we are added to the grey list," Bartolo said. "Entrepreneurs will find it hard to invest here. They will find it hard to find banks. It will cost them more to show they are complying with the law. 

"That is why economic growth, wealth and job generation, rule of law and the fight against financial crime go hand-in-hand".  

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