Bomba tal-ħin jisimha Pilatus

Il-kwistjoni tal-bank Pilatus Bank għandha l-potenzjal li tkun il-kawża ta’ ħsara li tmur lil hinn minn dik lir-reputazzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa kien żvelat li ċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus Ali Sadr Hasheminejad bħala riżultat ta’ investigazzjonijiet li kienu ilhom għaddejjin madwar sitt snin kien arrestat fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika u akkużat li pprova jdur mas-sanzjonijiet Amerikani kontra l-Iran billi uża banek Amerikani ħalli jittrasferixxi miljuni ta’ dollari mill-Venezwela b’mod li ħeba l-konnessjoni Iranjana.

Ġejna infurmati li dawn l-akkużi, jekk ippruvati, jistgħu jwasslu sa massimu ta’ 125 sena l-ħabs.

F’temp ta’ ftit siegħat, nhar il-Ħamis, hekk kif ħarġet l-aħbar, l-Awtoritá Maltija tas-Servizzi Finanzjarji (MFSA) neħħiet lil Ali Sadr Hasheminejad mit-tmexxija tal-bank Pilatus, inkluż li ssospendiet d-drittijiet kollha tiegħu fuq il-bank u mbagħad ipproċediet biex ħatret amministratur bl-inkarigu li jmexxi l-bank u jieħu ħsieb l-assi kollha tiegħu. Dan sar wara li MFSA tat direzzjoni li l-bank ma kellux jiddisponi minn, jillikwida, jittrasferixxi jew b’xi mod imiss l-assi u l-flus tal-klijenti tal-bank.

Issa sirna nafu ukoll li x-xahar li għadda l-Awtoritá Ewropeja dwar il-Banek (European Banking Authority) kienet ordnat li tinbeda investigazzjoni preliminari dwar is-supervizjoni tal-bank Pilatus mill-Awtoritá Maltija tas-Servizzi Finanzjarja u b’mod partikolari dwar il-verifiki li kellhom isiru in konnessjoni mal-kapital inizzjali ta’ €8 miljuni li Ali Sadr Hasheminejad uża biex waqqaf il-bank.

Damu ftit jaħsbuha!

Bosta minna jiftakru lil Ali Sadr Hasheminejad ħiereġ mill-uffiċini ta’ Pilatus f’Ta’ Xbiex tard fil-għaxija, jum fost l-oħrajn, bil-kameras tat-TV jiġru warajh u bil-gurnalisti jfajjru l-mistoqsijiet. Kienu qed jistaqsu jekk fil-bagalji li kellu kienx hemm xi dokumenti tal-bank konnessi mal-kontroversja dwar min kienu is-sidien ta’ Egrant inkella dwar it-trasferimenti ta’ flejjes minn uħud mill-kontijiet tal-bank.

Ir-Repubblika tal-Azerbajġan ilha ftit turi interss f’kooperazzjoni ma’ Malta. Ta’ interess f’dan is-sens kienet stqarrija ta’ 127 kelma li ħarġet lejn tmiem Diċembru tal-2014 li ħabbret li kien ġie iffirmat ftehim bejn Konrad Mizzi, dakinnhar Ministru tal-Enerġija ta’ Malta u l-kontro-parti tiegħu Natiq Aliyev kif ukoll ftehim ieħor mal-kumpanija statali taż-żejt tar-Repubblika tal-Azerbajġan (SOCAR). La l-istampa Maltja ma kienet hemm u l-anqas ma kien hemm uffiċjali pubbliċi jassistu lid-delegazzjoni Maltija mmexxija mill-Prim Ministru Joseph Muscat. Dakinhar kulħadd kien staqsa “għaliex ?”

F’dan l-isfond ma nafx liema hu dak il-pajjiż li jista’ jżomm ir-reputazzjoni tiegħu intatta!
Bħalissa għaddejjin diversi investigazzjonijiet, lkoll bil-pass ta’ nemla. F’xi ħin, nittama li mhux il-bogħod, kapaċi naraw il-biċċiet jingħaqdu fi stampa waħda li tkun ċara u li tinftiehem minn kulħadd.

Kull investgazzjoni mitmuma, kull rapport konkluż, tnaqqas it-tul tal-miċċa ta’ din il-bomba tal-ħin. Nittama biss li meta din il-bomba tal-ħin tieħu teqred biss lil dawk li ħolquha jew lil dawk li qagħdu jitbissmu lil dawk li ħolquha. Sfortunatament il-ħsara tinfirex.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Marzu 2018

 

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It-tieġ ta’ Venezja u l-ħasil tal-flus

 

Diversi qed jistaqsu għalfejn dan l-għaġeb kollu dwar min attenda għat-tieġ li sar Venezja fejn iżżewweġ dak li sa ftit ġranet ilu kien iċ-Chairman u s-sid tal-bank Pilatus, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.

Kull wieħed minna għandu l-obbligu li joqgħod attent biex dak li jagħmel fil-ħajja privata tiegħu jew tagħha ma jirriflettix ħażin fuq il-ħidma pubblika tiegħu jew tagħha. Biex inkun ċar, meta ngħid il-ħidma pubblika mhux qed nillimita ruħi għall-politiċi.

Sfortunatament għal bosta sar qiesu xejn m’hu xejn.

L-arrest fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika ta’ Ali Sadr Hasheminejad sar il-ġimgħa l-oħra. Kien arrest dwar ksur tal-liġijiet Amerikani fuq is-sanzjonijiet kontra l-Iran.

Imma kien ix-xahar l-ieħor li l-European Banking Authority fetħet inkjesta preliminari dwar is-sorveljanza li l-MFSA għamlet fuq il-bank Pilatus u b’mod partikolari dwar id-due diligence meħtiega biex ikun stabilit is-sors tat-€8 miljuni kapital inizzjali biex fetaħ il-bank.

L-issue tal-ħasil tal-flus ilha tissemma xhur sħaħ fil-konfront tal-bank Pilatus.

Il-mistoqsija allura li teħtieġ tweġiba hi dwar jekk kienx hemm preżenti għal dan it-tieġ f’Venezja persuni li x-xogħol tagħhom ta’ kuljum jikkonċerna s-sorveljanza kontra l-ħasil tal-flus.

Biex inkun l-iktar ċar possibli ħa nikkwota ir-rapport ta’ Lovin Malta li ġie ippubblikat il-bieraħ il-Ħadd 25 ta’ Marzu 2018. Jgħid hekk :
“Also present at Ali Sadr’s wedding was Juanita Bencini, a consultant at KPMG – the auditors of Pilatus Bank. Bencini is President of the Institute of the Financial Services Practitioners and chairs the IFSP’s Prevention of Money Laundering And Funding Of Terrorism committee. She is also board member of the government’s finance promotional arm FinanceMalta and chairs the anti-money laundering committee of the Malta Institute of Accountants.

She was accompanied to the wedding by her husband Austin Bencini, who sits on the board of directors of Allied Newspapers – which owns The Times of Malta.”

Ikun interessanti ħafna jekk inkunu nafu x’taħseb l-MFSA dwar dan. U kif qegħdin fiha l-korpi professjonali tal-accountants u l-awdituri jistgħu jilluminawna ftit ukoll!

L-etika professjonali fejn hi?

 

A time-bomb called Pilatus

The Pilatus Bank saga has the potential to develop into much more than damage to the country’s reputation. 

Earlier this week it was revealed that Pilatus Chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was, as a result of investigations spanning the past six years, arrested in the United States on charges that he evaded US-Iran sanctions by moving millions of dollars from Venezuela through US banks using a network of banks in order to conceal the Iranian connection.

We were informed that if the charges are proven a maximum sentence of 125 years behind bars is at stake.

Over a number of hours  on Thursday, the MFSA removed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad from the Pilatus Chairmanship, stripped him of all authority over the bank – including the suspension of his voting rights – and then proceeded to appoint an administrator to take charge of the bank and its assets. It further directed the bank “not to dispose, liquidate, transfer or otherwise deal with clients’ assets and monies”.

At the same time, the media informed us that last month the European Banking Authority ordered a preliminary inquiry into the Malta Financial Services Authority’s supervision of Pilatus Bank. In particular, this should be dealing with the due diligence checks of the €8 million initial capital which Ali Sadr Hasheminejad used to set up the bank. Is it not about time that such an inquiry is held?

Most of us do remember Ali Sadr Hasheminejad leaving Pilatus offices in Ta’ Xbiex late one evening last year, moving heavy luggage towards his parked car. He was being filmed by a television crew and questioned as to whether he was removing any bank documents from the bank’s vaults in the wake of the Egrant ownership allegations as well as in view of leaked information as to the ownership of a number of accounts held at Pilatus Bank and the transfers carried out to and from such accounts.

The involvement of the Azerbaijani dynasty in a number of matters adds further spice to the developing stories.

Coincidentally, the Azerbaijani Republic is interested in cooperation with tiny Malta. Of interest in this respect is a 127-word statement issued late in December 2014 announcing the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Dr Konrad Mizzi, at the time Malta’s Energy Minister, and his counterpart Natiq Aliyev, as well as a further Memorandum with the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR). The Maltese press did not cover the event and,  moreover, no Maltese civil servants were present to assist the Maltese delegation led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Everyone had queried this at the time.

This is part of the background which, even if its individual bits were unrelated, is sufficient to blow to smithereens any country’s reputation.

Various investigations are currently in the pipeline, albeit moving at a snail’s pace. At some point in time, hopefully not too distant, we may be able to see which parts of the jigsaw puzzle fit together.

Each investigation concluded, and each report published, shortens the fuse of this time-bomb. It can only be hoped that when this time-bomb goes off it will only destroy those who created it – or who watched its development in awe. Unfortunately, the collateral damage will, inevitably, be substantial.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 25th March 2018

Min hu bħal Pilatu?

Li Pilatu jkun fl-aħbarijiet lejliet kull Ġimgħa l-Kbira hu normali.

L-akkużi gravi fi New York kontra ċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus Ali Sadr Hasheminejad kienu ilhom ikunu investigati sa mill-2013. Id-delitti finanzjarji fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika jidher li jeħduhom bis-serjetá. It-tmexmix tal-fenek probabbilment jitħalla għal wara s-sentenza.

Waqt li fl-Istati Uniti kien qed ikun investigat iċ-Chairman tal-Bank Pilatus f’Malta l-MFSA kienet qed tagħmel due diligence dwar l-istess bank. Mid-dehra l-MFSA kienet sodisfatta b’dak li rriżultala tant li fl-2014 ħarġet il-liċenzja tal-Bank.

Ilna nistaqsu dwar kif dan il-Bank ħa l-liċenzja. Għax hu diffiċli biex tifhem kif inhu possibli li fl-Istati Uniti l-Bank ikun taħt il-lenti u qed jiġi investigat u f’pajjiż ieħor fl-istess ħin jinfetħulu l-bibien beraħ u jingħata l-liċenzja.

L-MFSA għandha ħafna x’tispjega.

Hu meħtieġ li l-MFSA stess tkun investigata biex ikun stabilit x’irriżulta waqt il-proċess tad-due diligence u jekk kienx hemm min għalaq għajnejh. Fi ftit kliem: d-due diligence sar bis-serjetá jew le?

L-istejjer li ilna nisimgħu dwar il-Bank Pilatus matul dawn l-aħħar xhur misshom ilhom li wasslu għal azzjoni drastika. Meta illum l-MFSA damet ġurnata sħiħa tiddelibera dwar x’ser tagħmel kont nistenna li tkun sospiża l-liċenzja tal-Bank inkella li l-MFSA taħtar amministrazzjoni temporanja u indipendenti għall-bank biex ikunu assigurat li jekk hemm xi provi li jistgħu jixħtu d-dawl fuq dak li għaddej, dawn ikunu ppreservati.

Għax ngħiduha kif inhi, li bank ikollu lill-Gvern tal-Azerbajan bħala klijent ewlieni tiegħu kellha tiftah għajnejn kulħadd li hemm xi ħaġa mhux f’postha. Għax il-Gvern tal-Azerbajan hu magħruf bħala wieħed mill-iktar Gvernijiet korrotti fid-dinja.

Kif ngħidu, ma min rajtek, xebbaħtek.

Xi ħadd qed jaħsel idejh bħal Pilatu.

Meta Pilatu ħasel idejh

L-istorja dwar il-Bank ta Pilatu jidher li hi ħafna iktar kumplessa milli naħsbu. L-informazzjoni ħierġa ftit ftit u nimmaġina li hemm ħafna iktar xtoħroġ, apparti l-ħafna li qatt mhu ser jara d-dawl tax-xemx.

Tgħallimna li Pilatu ħasel idejh.

Il-Bank ta Pilatu wasal sa hawn għax kien hawn min ħasel idejh u ħeles mis-serjetá. Il-Bank mhux ser jagħti informazzjoni pubblika dwar il-klijenti tiegħu. Imma anke l-iktar ħarsa ħafifa lejn il-lista żgħira tal-klijenti tal-bank magħrufa sissa twassal inevitabilment għal xokk kbir.

Qed jingħad li l-bank hu effettivament il-Bank tal-Azerbaijġan, l-iktar pajjiż korrott fid-dinja. Possibli li l-Awtoritá dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji qatt ma kellha l-iċken suspett dwar dan? Anke l-fatt li Bank ta dan ix-xorta jingħata liċenzja, fiha innifisha tqanqal suspetti kbar li t-tmexxija tal-Awtoritá dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji ma tafx xinhi tagħmel, jew, agħar minn hekk taf iżżejjed xinhi tagħmel.

Ilkoll niftakru l-kritika qawwija li kien hemm minn Evarist Bartolo dwar iċ-Chairman tal-Awtoritá għas-Servizzi Finanzjarji l-Professur J. Bannister xi xhur ilu. Illum wieħed jifhem ftit iktar għalfejn kien iddefendieh ħafna l-Onor Prim Ministru liċ-Chairman.

Dan kollu isaħħah l-argument li bosta ilhom jagħmlu, li l-kawża tal-problemi kollha tagħna huma l-istituzzjonijiet fMalta li huma kompromessi: kemm bil-mod li jinħatru kif ukoll bil-persuni li jinħatru biex imexxuhom.

Għax f’Malta ħafna affarijiet jiddependu fuq li Pilatu jaħsel idejh. Għax jekk u meta Pilatu ma jaħsilx idejh, iżda jiddeċiedi li jagħmel xogħolu, jibdew il-problemi għal ħafna nies.

 

The financing of Fawlty Towers

Townsquare.Fawlty Tower

The saga of the Mrieħel and the Townsquare towers is now entering a new phase, with the planning appeal stopwatch due to start ticking shortly –  most probably towards the end of the month. It is known that, so far, Sliema Local Council and a number of environmental NGOs will be appealing against the 4 August decision of the Planning Authority to approve the “Fawlty Towers” at Mrieħel and Townsquare Sliema .

Financing of the projects is next. The banks cannot increase their already substantial exposure to loans that are dependent on building speculation. Consequently, the developers will inevitably have to seek the involvement of private citizens and, possibly, institutional investors. Most probably, the process for financing the projects has already commenced; it will involve the issuing of bonds to the public and will normally be sponsored by a bank and a stock-broking agency.

The bank or banks and stockbrokers sponsoring the bond issue will have to ensure that the bonds are subject to an “appropriateness and suitability testing” subject to such direction as the Malta Financial Services Authority  may consider necessary and suitable. Also, in the light of past local unpleasant experiences, the Authority will undoubtedly be guided by the need to ensure  that prospective investors fully understand the inherent risks of the proposed investments.  It will also ensure that detailed information is published in the form of a suitable prospectus in which the small print is both legible and understandable.

Those who finance the high-rise projects should shoulder responsibility for their impact together with the Planning Authority and the developers. They will potentially make it happen, so they should carry the can. It is important to get this message through: those who will invest in the Gasan and Tumas bonds intended to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  should receive more than a monetary return on their investment. The moment they sign up they will also assume co-responsibility – with the developers, the Planning Authority, the bank or banks and the sponsoring stockbrokers – for this projected development .

Word is going around on the need to boycott the services and products placed on the market by the Gasan and Tumas Groups. Journalist Jürgen Balzan, writing in Malta Today described these services and products as being wide-ranging (hotels, car-dealerships, gaming, finance and property) which easily impact on the daily life of a substantial number of Maltese citizens. However, such a boycott’s only link with  the “Fawlty  Towers”  would be through the owners.  It would be preferable for a boycott to have a direct link with the offensive action.  In this context, the forthcoming bond issue to finance the “Fawlty  Towers”  presents itself as a suitable opportunity.

A boycott is a non-violent instrument of protest that is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society. The boycotting of the forthcoming bond issue would send a clear message that people will not be complicit in further ruining the  urban fabric of Sliema and ensure that development at Imrieħel is such that the historic landscape is fully respected.

A social impact assessment, if properly carried out, would have revealed the apprehensions of the residents in particular the residents on the Tignè peninsula. But, unfortunately, as stated by Sliema Green Local Councillor Michael Briguglio, the existing policy-making process tends to consider such studies as an irritant rather than as a tool for holistic management and community participation.

We have had some recent converts on the desirability of social impact assessments, such as Professor Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta. Prof. Torpiano, in an opinion piece published by the Malta Independent this week, stressed that spatial planning in Malta needs a social-economic dimension. Unfortunately, I do not recollect the professor himself practising these beliefs as the leading architect in the MIDI and Cambridge projects on the Tignè peninsula,  a stone’s throw from Townsquare!

Investing in this bond issue is not another private decision: it will have an enormous impact on the community.

Responsibility for this ever-increasing environmental mess has to be shouldered by quite a few persons in Malta. Even the banks have a very basic responsibility – and not one to be shouldered just by the Directors: the shareholders should also take an interest before decisions are taken and not post-factum.

I understand that the Directors of APS Bank have already taken note of the recent  statements regarding the environment by  Archbishop Charles Scicluna. As such, it stands to reason that APS will (I hope) not be in any way associated with the financing process for the “Fawlty  Towers”.  However, there is no news as yet from the other banks, primarily from the major ones – ie Bank of Valletta and HSBC.

This is a defining moment in environmental action in Malta. It is time for those that matter to stand up to be counted – and the sooner the better.

published by the Malta Independent on Sunday – 21 August 2016

Il-parabboli ta’ Varist

Evarist-Bartolo.irrabjat

It-tradizzjoni politika Ewropeja, li f’kull partit politiku jkun hemm mhux biss min jaħseb b’moħħu imma, iktar minn hekk li jkun hemm min jitkellem ċar fil-pubbliku, għad ma rabbietx l-egħruq fil-fond f’pajjiżna. Kieku dan seħħ, il-ħajja politika f’Malta forsi hi ftit aħjar.

Minflok politiċi li jitkellmu ċar, għandna l-parabboli ta’ Varist li waqt li l-opinjoni pubblika qed tiffoka fuq il-Panama jippreferi jikkritika l-imġieba tal-Professur Bannister inkella  li jitkellem dwar xi stedina għal fenkata f’razzett fin-nofsinnhar tal-pajjiż. Messaġġ għal min irid jifhmu, imma ferm il-bogħod minn dak mistenni minnu.

Jiena nitkellem ma membri parlamentari miż-żewġ naħat tal-kamra. Wieħed minnhom, min-naħa tal-Gvern, riċentement qalli li Marlene Farrugia għaġġlet meta rriżenjat għax kieku stenniet ftit kienet issib appoġġ mhux żgħir mill-backbench.

Iva, wara l-istorja faċli tgħid x’seta ġara, kieku …………… nitkellmu ċar u mhux bil-parabboli.

 

Imma dan ma ġarax b’kumbinazzjoni għax tajjeb li niftakru li Joseph Muscat ħaseb minn kmieni biex jassigura ruħu li jkun jista’ joħnoq id-dissens fil-grupp parlamentari biex jipprova jevita dak li ġralu Lawrence Gonzi.

Id-daqs kbir tal-Kabinett (l-ikbar fl-istorja) kif ukoll l-inkarigi lil prattikament il-backbench kollu (min Chairman hawn u min konsulent hemm) huma fost il-miżuri intenzjonati minn kmieni biex id-dissens ikun regolat. Pero minkejja dan, il-grupp parlamentari laburista xorta kellu diskussjoni imqanqla dwar il-Panama Papers. Kien hemm min, bil-bibien magħluqin ħass li seta jkun kritiku ta’ kif saru l-affarijiet u diversi talbu r-riżenji ta’ Konrad u Keith. Il-kuraġġ tal-ftit instema imma ma kienx biżżejjed. Kellhom il-kuraġġ imma illimitaw ruħhom għall-kritika interna, li hi neċessarja ukoll.

S’issa d-dissens fil-Partit Laburista hu limitat għall-kritika interna u għall-parabboli ta’ Varist. Żewġ passi l-quddiem imma mhux biżżejjed biex tinkiseb lura l-kredibilità.

 

Evarist Bartolo u l-politika tal-iskalora

skalora

Bħalissa qed naqraw fil-gazzetti l-argumenti li qed iġib Evarist Bartolo dwar il-posizzjoni taċ-Chairman tal-Awtorità dwar is-Servizzi Finanzjarji (MFSA)  l-Professur Joe Bannister. Varist qed isostni li l-involviment ta’ Bannister f’hedge fund fil-gżejjer Cayman hu konflitt ta’ interess li minħabba fih Bannister ma messux qiegħed jokkupa l-posizzjoni  sensittiva ta’ Chairman tal-MFSA.

Il-Professur Bannister isostni li diġa ta l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħu ħames snin ilu, li ġew aċċettati minn Lawrence Gonzi u Joseph Muscat.

L-attakk ta’ Varist Bartolo f’dan il-mument, fl-opinjoni tiegħi, mhux daqstant attakk fuq il-Professur Bannister. Bannister huwa fil-mument l-aħjar medium għal Varist biex jiffoka fuq ir-responsabbiltà kollettiva tal-Kabinett bl-użu ta’ lingwaġġ li bih ma jkunx imdarras il-Laburist.

L-attakk reali hu kontra r-resistenza ta’ sħabu fil-Kabinett biex jiftħu għajnejhom dwar Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri. Resistenza li minħabba fiha m’humiex jirrealizzaw il-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni li timmerita rizenja immedjata ta’ Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri l-Kasco, inkella t-tkeċċija tagħhom.

It-Times tal-lum fil-fatt tirrapporta lil Varist jgħid “One sees someone defending somebody else, mentioning seriousness and principles, and then one finds that there are personal obligations and that the two are doing very well together.”

Dan Varist jgħidu fil-kuntest tal-kritika tiegħu indirizzata lejn il-Professur Joe Bannister. Il-mira reali iżda, fil-fehma tiegħi, hi Joseph Muscat u d-difiża li Muscat qed jagħmel lil Konrad Mizzi u Keith Schembri l-Kasco.

Din hi l-politika tal-iskalora li biha l-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat filwaqt li jiddefendi lil min mexa ħażin qiegħed, fl-istess ħin, kontinwament, ikanta favur is-serjetà fit-tmexxija imma mhux jirrealizza li qiegħed kontinwament jegħreq, imdawwar bl-iskalora. U kif qallu l-professur l-ieħor, Simon Busuttil, fl-iskalora diffiċli jsalva mill-għarqa.

Taking care of tax evaders

HSBC Geneve

 

Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party pride themselves with emphasising that this Government has removed the statutory limitation (prescription) relative to corruption when holders of political office are criminally prosecuted.

It certainly was a step in the right direction. It still however requires the test of time to verify whether it is compatible with the human rights provisions of our Constitution and the European Convention of Human Rights as was explained by former Strasbourg Judge Giovanni Bonello in his article Bribery and Genocide : the same? (Times of Malta April 20, 2013)

Such a clear stand against corruption contrasts with the provisions of Legal Notice 256 of 2014 entitled Investment Registration Scheme Regulations 2014 which launched the latest amnesty that can be utilised by Maltese citizens who evaded payment of income tax. Camouflaged through the use of Orwellian terminology as an “Investment Registration Scheme”, this amnesty, as others before it, did not treat holders of political office any differently from other tax evaders. It afforded them the same opportunities to be able to “regularise” their position absolving them from having committed an economic crime.

Apparently, this government considers tax evasion to be a crime which is substantially inferior to corruption. In fact, the recent cases brought to light by Swiss Leaks have revealed the ease with which former Cabinet Ministers have wriggled out of their tax evasion crimes that they had successfully concealed for around 40 years, including when in office.

During all these years, most of the funds which were accumulated in various bank accounts until they ended in an HSBC Genève account, reaped interest at varying rates depending on market conditions, which, as a result, increased the quantum of the undeclared funds. Had both the funds originally invested as well as the accumulated interests  been appropriately declared to the tax authorities in Malta , they would have been subject to between 35 per cent and 65 per cent  taxation in terms of Income Tax legislation. Yet the Investment Registration Scheme of 2014 allows self-confessed tax evaders off the hook subject to a  maximum 7.5 per cent registration fee! They even get a discount if they repatriate the funds! Apparently it pays to be a tax evader.

There are, however, some matters  which are not at all clear, yet.

Before insisting on his imaginary “right” not to be pestered by the press, former Minister Ninu Zammit had informed The Malta Independent on Sunday  that all his affairs were now “regularised”, having  made use of the 2014 amnesty to reap the benefits of his hoard stacked in Genève. He was also reported as having stated that the sources of his hoard was income derived from his professional activity  as well as various deals in landed property.

It is public knowledge that Zammit’s land deals were negotiated through the Malta registered limited liability company by the name of LENI Enterprises Limited of which he was both a shareholder and a director.  It is logical that any income from land deals would not only have a bearing on Ninu Zammit’s tax status but also on the reported performance and possible tax liabilities of LENI Enterprises Limited. In this respect, the  company’s financial reporting would certainly make very interesting reading.  Have its audited accounts been submitted to the Malta Financial Services Authority or its predecessors in terms of law?  Who has certified these accounts? What about the role of the auditors of LENI Enterprises Limited?  Is there the need to revisit the audited accounts of LENI Enterprises Limited due to the fact that at least one of its directors has benefited from the latest tax evasion amnesty?

As far as I am aware,  Legal Notice 256 of 2014 only absolves self-declared tax-evaders resident in Malta from their non-observance of income tax legislation. Other crimes could still be actionable .

Such other crimes would include false declarations to Cabinet in terms of the Ministerial Code of Ethics. There may also be other issues should these result from the investigations which the Commissioner of Inland Revenue is currently carrying out on the basis of the information which is now known.

There is however one important thing which we should never underestimate. The benevolence of the state towards tax evaders has no limits. It knows how to take care of these small details too.

 

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 1st March 2015