Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has accused big countries of “getting away with murder”, in a cryptic Facebook post published hours before Malta faces a crucial vote that could impact its economic future.
The Financial Action Task Force will on Wednesday afternoon decide whether or not to put Malta on an anti-money laundering grey list, with Maltese authorities lobbying until the last moments in an attempt to avoid the damaging label.
Speaking on Monday, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said that the country was doing all it can to fix regulatory issues and was acting in good faith, but would not be coerced into making damaging concessions as a form of quid pro quo.
His ministerial colleague Bartolo went one further, writing early on Wednesday that “small countries find those who lecture them, investigate them, accuse them and condemn them. They find far fewer who will help them.
As far as responsibilities, international obligations, laws and conventions are concerned … small countries are expected to abide by them more than the big ones.”
Bartolo then added: “Big countries have ways of getting away with murder.”
A reference to the United States?
The foreign minister is renowned for his cryptic Facebook posts and his Wednesday missive did not specify who or what it was in reference to.
But with the FATF hours away and sources saying that the US is among those pushing for Malta to be greylisted, the inference appeared clear.
Among the potential sticking points between the two countries is a mooted Status of Forces Agreement. Times of Malta reported last year that secretive talks concerning that proposal had gone nowhere, with the US rejecting a watered-down plan Bartolo presented to then-US defence secretary Mark Esper.
Another potential bone of contention is a G7 plan, announced last month, to create a global minimum corporate tax rate of at least 15 per cent.
Bartolo drew on Hellenic history to make his point in his Wednesday social media post, describing how Athens invaded the small island of Melos and then told its inhabitants “the strong do what they want. The weak have to bow to our will.”
The anecdote is among Bartolo’s favourites: he has previously used it to argue that Malta is being bullied by larger states and left to fend for itself when it comes to managing irregular migration flows.
Bartolo even threw in a veiled criticism of Opposition leader Bernard Grech, saying that it was “pathetic to say the least” to see islanders “with no self respect siding with the big countries against their own countries.”
Grech faced accusations from the Labour camp of wanting Malta to end up on the FATF greylist after he wrote an open letter to the organisation last week in which he said that hard-working economic operators in Malta “feel hard-done by the transgressions of some, who should have known better."
Bartolo added further fuel to the fire in a subsequent Facebook post, sharing a Financial Times article about the west's hostile approach to China.
The article argues that "nothing is more likely to drive the Chinese people even further into the arms of their communist regime than unremitting hostility from the democracies."
Bartolo said: "We should humbly address our own shortcomings at home before self-righteously lecturing the rest of the world."