Politicians and criminals will have no option but to disclose the source behind unexplained wealth or risk having their assets seized if a new law proposed by the Nationalist Party is enacted. 

A breach of the so-called Unexplained Wealth Order law proposed by the opposition could result in a prison sentence of up to two years, a move aimed at clamping down on politicians and criminals accumulating assets without disclosing the source of funds behind them.

Apart from forcing the individuals to disclose the source of their unexplained wealth, the act also gives the authorities the power to seize assets suspected as being financed by criminal activities.

On Saturday, PN leader Bernard Grech announced the PN would be putting forward a mega-bill aimed at turning the Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry recommendations into law. This includes the introduction of an Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO) law which would allow the Criminal Court to issue such an order to establish how an individual obtained a property and their interest in it whenever there is suspicion the funds were obtained illicitly.

The PN said the bill is aimed at combating “more effectively and efficiently” the crimes of money laundering and corruption with the aim to end the impunity generated from these crimes. It enables the courts, among other things, to issue an “interim freezing order” when there is not yet enough evidence to issue charges but when there is reasonable suspicion the assets were obtained unlawfully.

Act gives authorities the power to seize assets suspected as being financed by criminal activities

According to the proposed bill, seen by Times of Malta, the courts can issue the order if there is reasonable cause to believe that the respondent (of the order) holds the property, and the value of the property is greater than €100,000.

It also states that the Criminal Court must be “satisfied there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the known sources of the respondent’s lawfully obtained income would have been insufficient for the purposes of enabling the respondent to obtain the property”.

In cases when a UWO is imposed and a person makes a statement known to be false or misleading, the individual will be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine of more not more than €100,000, or to both.

Who will be impacted?

For the court to issue the UWO, it must first establish that the respondent is a politically exposed person or else is, or has been, involved in serious crime, both in Malta and abroad. Any person connected to the respondent is also considered as involved, the act stipulates.

For a crime to be considered serious under the proposed bill, the criminal activity must, on conviction, carry a minimum sentence of nine years imprisonment. PN sources said the law is not aimed at targeting just anyone, but focuses specifically on politically exposed persons and those involved in organised crimes.

“There are safeguards in the law that ensure that it is not a case of just anyone being asked to disclose the source behind their income. The person needs to either be a poltician, close to one or else involved in serious crimes,” one source said.

This is not the first time the PN has called for such a law to be introduced. In 2020, as parliament debated the proceeds-of-crime bill, the party had urged the government to introduce unexplained wealth orders to give the authorities more powers to seize assets potentially financed by criminal activities.

According to media reports, a similar law put to cabinet by Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had been turned down.

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