A new specialised team of international experts has been set up by the financial regulator to combat money laundering, handling 25 new cases last year.
In the Malta Financial Services Authority's 2019 annual report, chief executive Joseph Cuschieri said the team was established to improve oversight of firms' anti-money laundering and terrorism financing compliance.
Malta’s ability to fight against global money laundering has been questioned in recent years after a string of high-profile cases including shuttered banks and major corruption scandals.
Writing in the MFSA report published Monday, Cuschieri says the new financial compliance team includes “best-in-class global expertise”.
'Financial crime top priority'
The team is led by Anthony Eddington, the new head of financial crime compliance at the MFSA, formerly of the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority who joined the MFSA from Deutsche Bank, UK.
The MFSA has also hired a new head of banking supervision David Eacott, formerly of the Bank of England.
The team last year reviewed 35 enforcement cases from 2018 and opened 105 new cases. The report says 78 cases were closed.
Of these new cases, 25 were focussed on money laundering, the MFSA confirmed to Times of Malta.
“The fight against financial crime, money laundering and the financing of terrorism remains a top strategic priority of the MFSA, to mitigate threats to the stability of the industry and the country at large,” Cuschieri writes in the report.
Working with U.S.
The MFSA report says it has also “intensified its collaboration” with international experts, primarily the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and the U.S. Embassy in Malta.
Last month, Times of Malta reported how Maltese authorities were holding talks with the US in a bid to avoid looming blacklisting of the jurisdiction by international experts.
Meanwhile, the MFSA report says it has been working on improving the depth of its scrutiny, last year carrying out 25 money laundering-focused onsite examinations at licensed entities. In 2020, the number of money laundering focused inspections is projected to reach 60.
The report says that the bulk of these visits were carried out by the MFSA on behalf of the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit which is aimed at strengthening information flow between the two entities.
Financial services and COVID-19
In the report, Cuschieri says that the financial services sector remained a key pillar of the Maltese economy in 2019.
The sector grew by 2.3 per cent in terms of gross value added over 2018 and generated 430 jobs, bringing the total jobs within the sector to 12,230. This, Cuscheieri said, represents just under 5% of total employment in Malta.
The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, presented new challenges when it comes to the ensuring stability and sustainability of the sector.
“These circumstances are having a global impact and will continue to have significant implications on the global financial services industry,” he writes.
While in the current climate, certain regulatory requirements may not always be met, the MFSA said it still expects regulated firms to take all reasonable measures to provide the necessary information and to have appropriate contingency plans in place to be able to deal with any eventuality.
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