▪ Police and Inland Revenue were meant to provide readily available expertise to the bureau
▪ Regime to confiscate criminal assets ‘has serious shortcomings’
Malta’s nascent Asset Recovery Bureau (ARB) was left in the lurch after both the Police Commissioner and Inland Revenue Commissioner said they were short of staff to assign full-time officers to work with the unit.
Writing in the ARB’s first annual report, chairman Joseph Camilleri highlights how regulations setting up the bureau envisioned key roles within the bureau being occupied by experienced staff nominated by the police and Inland Revenue Department.
Mr Justice Emeritus Camilleri said the lack of staff availability from these two entities was “quite a big set-back for the setting up of a well-functioning ARB equipped with already skilled officers, as envisaged by the ARB regulations”.
Criminal asset recovery is a vital plank in the fight against organised crime.
The judge said the regulations setting up the ARB had foreseen that the police nominated to work at the bureau would be pivotal for the investigative aspect of its work.
Officers from the Inland Revenue Department were likewise expected to provide the bureau with the necessary auditing and accounting skills.
He said the “unexpected development” obviously represented a significant shift away from the regulations setting up the bureau.
Instead, they each accepted and appointed a liaison officer to assist the ARB when needed and a plan was agreed as to the way forward, the annual report says.
The report charts how the ARB had to move ahead without the support of this expected readily available technical expertise, by recruiting staff from elsewhere and providing them with specialised training.
The former judge did find some solace in the lack of trained staff made available to him by the police and Inland Revenue, saying this further ensured the bureau’s independence.
‘Serious shortcomings in asset recovery regime’
Times of Malta previously reported how the bureau spent years in limbo after the Justice Ministry failed to give it the necessary legal tools to function. Judge Emeritus Camilleri confirmed as much in the annual report, stating the legal notice giving birth to the bureau was published in 2015, but the regulations were not bought into force immediately and “practically remained inoperative for about two years”.
The first members of the bureau’s board were appointed in November 2015, and a new board was appointed in 2017.
“The task of building the ARB from scratch fell on the shoulders of the current board as composed and chaired,” the annual report says.
Confiscation of criminal assets has long been identified as a major lacuna in Malta’s arsenal against organised crime.
The ARB’s annual report highlights how court judgments ordering the confiscation of assets were often futile, as the confiscation regime has “some serious shortcomings which need to be addressed”.
Last year, the bulk of assets recovered by the bureau were movable ones like bank accounts, cars and boats.
The remaining 17 per cent were related to immovable assets.