A top US Treasury official has urged Malta to tackle "pressing issues" regarding financial crime and revealed concerns about its citizenship investment programme.
In an interview with The Sunday Times of Malta, US assistant secretary for terrorism financing and financial crime Marshall Billingslea said the jurisdiction needs to send a "very strong signal" that corruption and financial crime will not be tolerated.
He added that the US is concerned about Malta's sale of passports and citizenship. He said that with unemployment being so low, "one wonders why revenue is needed through such an investment scheme".
The Treasury official added that citizenship-by-investment programmes need careful scrutiny. He said one might even question why it is necessary in a country like Malta.
There are growing concerns about the government's ability and will to crackdown on financial crimes, with pressure growing following a dismal assessment of these efforts by Moneyval, the anti-money laundering body of the Council of Europe. The EU's banking regulator also said it had "serious concerns" on the effectiveness of the Malta Financial Services Authority's supervision of financial institutions in the country
Billingslea said that there are "right or wrong" perceptions about the facility by which individuals can gain access to the Maltese financial system. He added that they are working to make sure that this is no longer the case, adding that the message needs to be clear that Malta is not open to criminal business. Billingslea told the paper that there is an urgent need for collaboration on the corporate formation process and the way that corporate service providers in Malta enable the establishments of companies, and the way those companies are vetted.
The US official said that he discussed the recently announced news regarding the setting up of a financial crimes agency in Malta. He added that the US will "definitely support" this action, and that there is a strong level of support from the UK as well.
Billingslea said the US was willing to offer the full range of support to help the government's efforts to fight these crimes.