Finance Minister Edward Scicluna on Thursday announced the setting up of a new agency geared towards combatting financial crime.

Addressing a conference about Malta’s efforts to fight money-laundering and terrorism financing, Prof. Scicluna said the government was committed to creating an agency that was genuinely feared by financial criminals.

He said Malta’s success as a financial centre naturally opened it up to various risks, just as was the case in other financial centres like New York, London and Paris.

Prof. Scicluna said countries should be judged by their efforts to stamp out financial crime.

He said convictions for such crimes were the key metric to show systems to combat money laundering and terrorism financing were working.

The Finance Minister assured the government was committed to a number of reforms concerning investigations and prosecutions of money-laundering and terrorism financing.

Prof. Scicluna said the new agency would not end up competing with the police, who are also tasked with investigating financial crime.

Suitable model for Malta being decided upon

Details about the new agency were still being ironed out, as a suitable model for Malta had to be decided upon, he said.

The Finance Minister said investigating organised financial crime required different tools and expertise when compared to low-level fraud cases.

This required a specialised agency to tackle high-level money-laundering cases, with people equipped with the necessary expertise to see through prosecutions, the Finance Minister said.

He said intelligence between all the agencies tasked with fighting these crimes would be shared.

Another of the reforms announced by Prof. Scicluna was an increased emphasis on the money-laundering element in tax evasion cases.

He said the system of just focusing on recovering lost tax revenues through administrative fines would be refined, to place more emphasis on the criminal element.

Why are financial crime prosecutions so low?

Questioned by Times of Malta why cases were not being successfully prosecuted by the police, Prof. Scicluna acknowledged this was the question on everyone’s lips.

“This is our question. How is it that the amount of convictions do not correlate with Malta’s economic profile. This is why you need to test and find out why,” the Finance Minister said.

Several high-level profile cases involving politicians have placed the spotlight on the police’s reluctance or inability to prosecute financial crimes.

The Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi were both found to have opened up secret companies in Panama, through which they planned to receive up to $2 million in deposits.

Multiple FIAU reports about the two men’s activities landed on the police’s desk, though no apparent action was ever taken against them.

Mr Schembri has been the subject of two separate money-laundering inquiries that have been ongoing for over two years.

The inquiries were sparked after the FIAU reports sent to the police were leaked.

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