Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit is to get investigative powers as part of a broadened remit, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said on Friday. 

The FIAU’s broadened remit would allow it to investigate suspicions of financial crime directly and then take them to the state prosecutor, to charge perpetrators in court.

At present, all FIAU reports are filtered down to the police, who then have to investigate and act on them. FIAU reports are currently considered ‘intelligence’ and do not qualify as evidence to be submitted in court.    

Scicluna provided no further details on the government’s plans to bolster the FIAU but sources told Times of Malta that a team of advisors had been discussing the plan in recent weeks. 

“This is something that was once discussed but shelved, however, now it is back on the table,” a senior government source said. 

The reform is also seen by some in the government as “a more realistic” alternative to the proposed setting up of a dedicated financial crime agency – something the Finance Ministry has been working on since last year.  

Bolstering the FIAU alone, however, is not a fix-all solution, and the same government sources who spoke to Times of Malta about the FIAU reform proposal conceded that it would have to form part of a suite of other reforms that are also being ironed out.  

Assessors with international anti-money laundering expert group Moneyval had identified significant shortcomings in the way Maltese police fought financial crime, saying resources and training were lacking.

Incoming police commissioner Angelo Gafà has vowed to be tough on financial crime and in his first move as police chief replaced Economic Crimes Unit head Ian Abdilla with Alexandra Mamo.

The Moneyval report, released last year, gave the government until October of this year to fix shortcomings or risk greylisting. 

Scicluna downplays greylisting fears

Speaking on Friday, Scicluna insisted the government is working night and day to prevent a damaging greylisting. Speaking to the media, Scicluna played down comments by a US embassy official stating that the greylisting was inevitable for Malta.

The embassy official had told a webinar that “unless something happens very quickly... [greylisting] is going to happen, and it could really be disastrous for Malta’s financial market”. 

Scicluna said the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a global money-laundering watchdog, would be able to see the government was making a genuine effort to show it meant business. 

New laws for asset recovery

The Finance Minister said work was being done on drafting a raft of new laws to boost key authorities in the sector. 

This includes a new law that will allow the Asset Recovery Bureau to seize suspected criminals’ assets before charges were issued in court. 

At the moment, assets can only be seized once lengthy court procedures have concluded and a sentence handed down. 

He said authorities would be empowered to require people with unexplained wealth to prove where the money came from. 

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