Malta’s stand on amendments seen as ‘watering down’ anti-money-laundering rules are in line with the EU’s position, a spokesman for the Office of the Prime Minister told the Times of Malta.

EU governments have just agreed to create centralised company registers detailing who the real owners of companies are but stopped short of making the registers public following a compromise deal with the European Parliament. Brussels observers saw this as “watering down” the rules.

The registers will be accessible to members of the public who can prove they have a legitimate interest in accessing them.

Asked if Malta agreed that the registers should not be made public, the OPM spokesman said the country’s stand on the changes were in line with the Economic and Financial Affairs Council’s (Ecofin) position.

He said the revision of the anti-money-laundering directive was meant to increase the powers of financial intelligence services and provide for greater cooperation with other national agencies, including the tax authorities. Such authorities would have full access to centralised information systems, or registers, on the ultimate beneficiaries of companies.

The spokesman said the directive included the introduction of due diligence checks on virtual currency to end the anonymity on that platform, as well as the lowering of thresholds on identifying holders of prepaid cards from €250 to €150. He noted that EU governments had taken a position against the publication of such registers in view of security and competition concerns among affected companies and individuals, so much so that the publication of registers raised constitutional concerns in a number of member states.

During its presidency of the EU Council, Malta would be tasked with pushing forward the position adopted by Ecofin, the spokesman added.

Reacting to the deal, which comes in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal, the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee rapporteur, Krišjanis Karinš, said criminals in Europe had used the anonymity of offshore companies and accounts to obscure their financial dealings.

Mr Karinš said the setting up of the registers would help lift the veil of secrecy on offshore accounts and greatly assist the fight against money laundering and blatant tax evasion.

The legislation seeks to tighten the scrutiny of business dealings by politically exposed persons (PEPs) due to them being at a higher risk of corruption.

It aims to put in place additional measures, such as establishing the source of wealth and funds of PEPs where there are high-risk business relationships with them.

During a recent visit to Malta, European Parliament president Martin Schulz moved to quell doubts about Malta’s credibility in pushing through such legislation during its presidency given the involvement of two top government officials in the Panama Papers scandal.

According to e-mails in the Panama Papers, Minister Without Portfolio Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, were meant to establish a “joint venture” through their Panama companies to carry out business in remote gaming, recycling and trade in used tyres.

They both deny such plans.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us