The police have investigated 92 potential money-laundering cases since 2013, a drop of about 20 per cent over the previous five years, data tabled in Parliament shows.
The drop came as a surprise to legal practitioners, who said they expected the figures to rise in light of stricter anti-money-laundering regulations being introduced.
According to figures provided by Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia in reply to a question by MP Godfrey Farrugia, the police probed 16 cases of potential money laundering in 2017, down from 18 the previous year.
Of the 92 cases investigated between 2013 and 2017, both happening to be election years, only eight resulted in an arraignment, and another 45 were concluded but no action was taken in court. Investigations into the remaining 39 cases are ongoing.
A total of 117 cases were investigated between 2008 and 2012, including 41 cases in 2008 alone.
The police recently told this newspaper they compiled, verified and analysed their own information when investigating money-laundering cases flagged to them in reports by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.
The legal practitioners, who spoke to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, said they could not understand how the numbers mentioned by the minister had decreased in recent years, particularly since more stringent anti-money-laundering rules had come into force.
“This is difficult to understand, especially considering Malta’s growing financial sector, the new and more restrictive money-laundering legislation introduced over the years and the growing spotlight on the island since the Panama Papers scandal, which if anything, should have led the government anti-money-laundering agency to pull up its socks and show it is delivering,” one remarked.
In his view, such circumstances should have led to more cases being investigated by the police and not less.
Official data also shows that the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit submitted 32 reports to the police last year and another 39 in 2016. Since 2013, 144 reports have been handed over to the police by the agency.
Referring to the discrepancy between the reports handed over by the FIAU and the number of cases actually investigated by the police, Dr Farrugia noted the two entities used different methods in compiling statistics.
While the FIAU data referred to individual reports, that of the police referred to cases, which could involve more than one suspicious activity raised by the anti-money-laundering agency.