Malta’s financial watchdog has been forced to defend a decision to close its offices on Friday for a corporate event amid growing anger over its handling of the Satabank case.

Customers of the bank have been unable to access their accounts since last Saturday, after the bank was placed under the control of Ernst and Young (EY).

In a statement, the MFSA said that although licence holders had been advised earlier in the week about a corporate event taking place on Friday, the authority ensured that enough resources were in place to minimise potential disruptions.

The MFSA said its offices were open with reception services operating normally, while all calls and e-mails reaching the authority were seen to on an immediate basis.

It said the Satabank case was being dealt with accordingly and was not affected by the event.

Resources were in place to minimise disruptions

The bank has been in the headlines all week after the MFSA blocked all account movements for its clients.

The PN Opposition on Thursday called for swift action to limit the financial risks of companies that had their Satabank accounts frozen.

According to the MFSA, a “controlled release” of customer funds would take place in the coming weeks.

Satabank has been on the radar of both the MFSA and the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit since the beginning of the year.

A joint inspection by the two entities concluded that there were significant weaknesses in the bank’s anti-money laundering procedures.

The PN welcomed the MFSA’s decision to start the process for the return of customer deposits from Satabank, but noted that those with legitimate deposits were subject to “undesirable restrictions”.

Satabank clients this week took to physically queuing outside the bank in a bid to gain information about what will happen to their money.

The bank was fined €60,500 in July after it was found to be in breach of risk management laws as outlined in the Banking Act.

It is the third bank to face significant regulatory issues in as many years.

Nemea Bank was placed under administration in 2016 and its licence withdrawn the following year by the European Central Bank (ECB), acting upon the MFSA’s advice.

The bank is appealing the decision.

In March, the MFSA appointed a “competent person” to take control of Pilatus Bank.

It later advised the ECB to withdraw the bank’s licence.