International pressure has continued to mount on Malta in the wake of the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, with a top anti-corruption advisor to the UK government now calling for the FBI and the British police to launch a widespread investigation into Malta.
“Malta only convicted four people for money laundering offences last year, and yet the scale of the illicit financial transactions passing through the country can be large,” Jon Benton said during an interview on BBC Radio 4 – the second most popular radio station in the UK. “A few years ago, I dealt with a case in which ￡100 million were all cooked up and sorted out in Valletta, put through private banks, and then transferred into the UK financial system to be laundered.
“Malta has a serious and growing corruption problem, which penetrates politics. You cannot operate at the level in which hundreds of millions of pounds are being moved around illicitly without the tentacles of corruption reaching into all areas.”
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder has sparked international interest in corruption in Malta
Benton used to head the International Corruption Unit, a department within the British government’s National Crime Agency which was formed in 2015 to with investigate international corruption and money laundering.
He said Malta became a centre for money laundering in the wake of the Arab Spring and that the island had been used to launder billions of pounds from Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. He also criticised Malta’s sale-of-passports scheme, which requires new citizens to purchase or rent property on the island.
Two months ago, Caruana Galizia and the BBC had investigated how many passport-buyers opt to rent out apartments without ever stepping foot into them, consequently inflating the local rental market.
Caruana Galizia and the BBC had investigated Malta’s sale-of-citizenship scheme
“It’s all part and parcel of the grand corruption scheme,” Benton said. “First you need a shell company from one of the usual culprits like the British Virgin Islands. Then you need access to international financial centres, which requires a residence and ideally even a passport. When you have these, you’re suddenly up and running.”
“One would be fairly comfortable in saying there isn’t confidence in the Maltese judicial system, and in the country’s rule of law. I think this will surprise people.”