The FIAU treasure trove
When he was speaking on the adjournment last Wednesday night, former Minister Manuel Mallia spoke, like the experienced criminal lawyer he is, on the FIAU – the body set up to combat money laundering.
Mallia went into detail to prove that nobody outside the unit is authorised to see FIAU documents, much less reveal them. Handling them, let alone disseminating them, is a criminal offence.
Predictably, this being Malta in 2017, when many try to replace the late lamented Daphne Caruana Galizia, no sooner had Mallia had his say than two papers ran the FIAU document on Pilatus Bank, and an MEP even sent it to the European Commission.
There are some very cogent reasons why the law protects the confidentiality of the FIAU. First of all, the main and normal interlocutors of the unit are the comparable anti-moneylaundering units in different countries.
Secondly, even within the FIAU there are various levels of confidentiality, such that even its own board has no right to be
informed about the different dossiers that the unit is investigating.
Thirdly, the FIAU can only propose investigating this or that but then it is up to the police and the attorney general to establish if there are enough grounds for prosecution. As we can remember from other legislatures, there are times when the attorney general decides ‘Nolle prosequi’ not take any further steps).
As Mallia pointed out, infraction of these confidentiality rules constitute criminal offences that can be punished with fines and even prison terms. Realistically speaking, however, no government would want to turn a paper or an MEP into a victim, especially in these dramatic times after Caruana Galizia’s murder.
That can mean, however, that the FIAU door is wide open, and what should be a unit working in confidentiality becomes the talking point of the whole country. Finance Minister Edward Scicluna had even suggested, some time back, that some of the reports themselves seem to have been written to be divulged. (do
The divulgence of the FIAU files has been taken as proof that the police and the attorney general are huge obstacles to the investigation of money laundering, since no prosecution has followed from the unit’s investigations. But as Mallia pointed out, it is only the police and the attorney general who can decide whether to prosecute on the basis of the conclusions reached by FIAU.
It is, perhaps, a sad reflection on Malta’s current state that saying something is confidential is like a red rag to a bull.
On the other hand, however, the absence of any sort of prosecution, and the fact that key persons mentioned in the Panama Papers and other leaks continue in their jobs – and in one case, at least, are shown living it up with no care on their minds – along with the frustration the country feels at this state of affairs, all militate in favour of more disclosures and for the general perception that people in the wrong will go unpunished.
Criminal actions or not, the flow of disclosures seem destined to continue.