A new facility that will allow authorities to safely store assets seized by the courts will be operational by 2024, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis announced on Tuesday.
The state-of-the-art facility will be spread over roughly two tumuli of land in Ħal Far and will cost the government €2.5 million.
Addressing a press conference at the site of the new facility, Zammit Lewis said that the project showed that the government was taking the fight against financial crime seriously, adding that its responsibility went beyond enacting legal reforms.
At the start of the year, Parliament approved new legislation which provides the bureau with a stronger legal basis for it to carry out its functions.
The new legislation, he explained, will provide the bureau with more powers to seize assets and will mean that authorities no longer need to wait for a sentence to be handed down by the courts in order to do so.
“This will allow us to improve in what Moneyval describes as the effectiveness of action,” he said, adding that more human resources were also being provided in order for the bureau to be better equipped to carry out its function.
Architect Mariello Spiteri explained that the facility would have the highest security standards and will allow the bureau to store assets ranging from boats and containers to fine art and jewelry, each in a specialised area and in conditions that ensure that any confiscated items are in good condition once proceedings have been concluded.
Items that are not returned to their owners are auctioned off by the Asset Recovery Bureau.
Given that authorities now have more powers to confiscate assets thought to be linked to crime, one can expect there to be greater demand for the storage of these items. Asked whether the fact that the facility would only be ready in four years was of concern, the minister said that nothing would stop authorities from doing their job.
He acknowledged that Malta’s track-record over the years in this department was not acceptable, adding however that the bureau would continue to find temporary solutions in the interim.
Malta is currently facing the threat of grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force after it failed an exhaustive test of its anti-money laundering regime. Since then, Malta has enacted a number of reforms related to financial crime and the rule of law in the hopes of avoiding being listed as a high-risk jurisdiction.
Civil society and the Nationalist Opposition have however accused the government of acting in bad faith and of rushing to implement what have in many cases been described as half-baked reforms.
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