Bank of Valletta this morning denied allegations on deliberate breaches of anti-money laundering regulations.

In a statement on the Malta Stock Exchange, the bank referred to recent media reports claiming breaches and invited those who had concerns about its conduct to raise them with the appropriate supervisory authorities.

“The bank takes all comments made by the regulators very seriously and responds, in as comprehensive a manner as possible, to explain its action in particular cases which may be raised from time to time by regulators. Our relationship with all regulators is a very professional one as we share the commitment to prevent people using the bank for illegitimate purposes.”

The bank noted that the rapidly changing local and international financial landscape and said it was taking all the necessary measures to face challenges by strengthening its anti-financial crime defences in the shortest possible time.

“One such measure is the ongoing due diligence review of financial intermediaries which do business with the bank; this exercise has led to the termination of around 70 intermediary relationships over the past year.

“In the last several months the bank has terminated hundreds of banking relationships many of which were established in the past decade and beyond. This exercise of continuous due diligence will continue in the coming months, and more relationships may have to be terminated if and when there is evidence that they may not be meeting the bank’s expectations in terms of proper standards of conduct.”

Other measures, it said, included the setting up of an Anti-Financial Crime (AFC) Department, with responsibilities which stretched much further than the traditional prevention of money laundering and funding of terrorism function; the recruitment of a considerable number of employees for its Risk, Compliance and AFC functions; and the tightening of its customer acceptance policy which led to widespread complaints from practitioners that the bank was being excessively slow in on-boarding new customers.

“In taking these and other measures, the bank is being guided by expert external consultancies, including 'Big Four' audit firms and international firms specialised in gaming regulation.”

BOV said that in the past three years it commissioned three in-depth independent expert reports on its anti-financial crime process and shared the findings with local and EU regulators.

“The process of implementing the recommendations of these reports is now in progress. Anti-money laundering issues are also a regular item of discussion at board and management committee level.

“The bank's objective is not to make short term profits, but to ensure long term sustainability. Its primary concern is qualitative, and not quantitative. It will therefore continue to make the necessary investments in people, training and IT in order to protect the stability of the bank itself, and of the local financial services sector,” it said.