Malta’s cabinet has allegedly backed a controversial deal to grant the United States of America jurisdictional powers in the country.
Quoting sources, the Times of Malta claim that minister’s backed the deal to secure American support ahead of a crucial MoneyVal test which could effectively blacklist the country.
A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel present in a host country in support of the larger security arrangement. Malta has been reluctant to sign such an agreement due to a neutrality clause within the constitution.
US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper will be in Malta on Wednesday to hold talks with the government on the matter. The deal would need a two-thirds parliamentary majority to be approved.
It appears that the government is pushing for a watered-down version of the agreement, with the US allegedly looking for access in Maltese waters to tackle smuggling operations in the Mediterranean.
There have long been unconfirmed suspicions that the Maltese government has attempted to cosy up to the US to curry favour ahead of a potential blacklisting.
After failing a Moneyval test back in September 2019, Malta was given one year to address its shortcomings in its anti-money laundering regime.
However, outgoing US Chargé d’Affaires Mark Schapiro said the timeline has since been extended by a few months in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If the country fails to pass Moneyval’s retest this October, it will be placed on the body’s “greylist” which will see the island subjected to enhanced monitoring procedures.
Still, Prime Minister Robert Abela pledged that Malta would pass its second test. However, a US embassy official has still said that Malta’s greylisting was inevitable.
Betsson’s Head of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance Corinne Valletta has warned that the gaming industry would be in a precarious position if Malta were to fail the test. These concerns were echoed by the Malta Employers’ Association, which said that being greylisted could be as devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
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