A ban on cash transactions over €10,000 is set to finally see the light of day, after being shot down by Cabinet when first proposed by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna four years ago.
A source familiar with the 2015 proposal told Times of Malta that the government had little appetite for the ban back then, fearing it would have a negative economic and social impact.
Since then, pressure from international institutions has mounted on Malta to clamp down on money-laundering and tax evasion. The majority of EU countries have similar bans of varying amounts.
Cash payments for high-value items such as property, cars, jewellery and art are favoured vehicles for criminals looking to launder the proceeds of their criminal activities.
During the budget speech last Monday, Prof. Scicluna announced that such cash transactions are set to be banned.
Replying to questions about the legal tools to enforce this ban, Prof. Scicluna said the restrictions would be introduced by means of regulations by the Finance Ministry, as empowered under the prevention of money-laundering act.
He said the regulations aim to introduce a restriction on the use of cash by making it illegal to make or receive payments in cash in excess of €10,000.
This ban will apply to property, car and boat sales, as well as the sale of precious stones and metals, including jewellery and watches.
The buying and selling of antiques and works of art, including by traders, auctioneers and galleries, will be covered by the new regulations. Prof. Scicluna said the breach of this ban would constitute a criminal offence.
Questioned who would enforce the ban, the Finance Minister said the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU), Malta’s anti-money laundering body, or another authority would be responsible for supervising compliance.
He said the competent authority would receive reports to analyse and pass on to the police for further investigations.
During his Monday budget speech, Prof. Scicluna also reiterated the government’s commitment to set up an agency dedicated to fighting financial crime, to “complement” the police’s Economic Crimes Unit.
The Economic Crimes Unit has come under fire over the past years for failing to prosecute financial crimes.
An assessment by the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering body (Moneyval) found that only four of the 163 FIAU reports sent to the Economic Crimes Unit between 2014 and the end of 2018 have resulted in prosecutions.
Among the FIAU reports yet to produce prosecutions by the police are two intelligence reports into suspected criminal activities involving the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
Both reports were eventually leaked to former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil prior to the June 2017 election.
Over two years down the line, the two magisterial inquiries kicked off as a result of the leaked reports have yet to see the light of day.
Another intelligence report identifying power station businessman Yorgen Fenech as the owner of the offshore company 17 Black also gathered dust for several months in 2018, prior to Economic Crimes chief Ian Abdilla seeking magisterial assistance to help confirm ownership of the company.
A leaked e-mail sent by government consultants Nexia BT identified 17 Black as one of the income sources for Panama company set up by Mr Schembri and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi in 2015.