Labour MP Edward Zammit Lewis: ‘Don’t blame MFSA for licensing Pilatus Bank’

“It is incorrect to blame an authority which always functioned correctly just because it gave a licence to a bank which was not mentioned in the investigation” 

PN General Council President Kristy Debono and Labour MP Edward Zammit Lewis on Xtra
PN General Council President Kristy Debono and Labour MP Edward Zammit Lewis on Xtra

Labour MP Edward Zammit Lewis has rued the long periods of time taken for magisterial inquiries to be concluded.

“It’s not good that they take so long. But I believe in the judiciary,” he said on TVM’s Xtra in a debate on the arrest in the US of Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad on Tuesday – as the bank has long been the subject of a number of magisterial inquiries.

But Zammit Lewis said that the way the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) was handling the Pilatus issue as an example of “rule of law at work”.

“The MFSA did not exclude revoking the license of Pilatus bank following the arrest of Hasheminejad by the United States… allowing institutions to work shows the proper functioning of the rule of law. I would worry if the government interfered with the MFSA. Instead, it is allowing it to do its job,” he said.

There are at least four pending inquiries which are examining the bank’s transactions in relation to allegations published by the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Zammit Lewis referred to the revocation of the Nemea Bank licence following a request to the European Central Bank. “The revocation of licences happens in this manner, and not by Adrian Delia shouting in front of the law courts.”

To this, MP and PN general council president Kristy Debono insisted the issue was about safeguarding the country’s reputation. “We always agreed with Labour when it was in Opposition on the financial sector. The economy depends on this sector, and we always had a solid legal foundation.”

In a phone-in, Alternattiva Demokratika (AD) secretary-general Ralph Cassar said there were already investigations ongoing in the USA into Pilatus Bank’s owners while the MFSA was carrying out its due diligence for the new bank, and was apparently satisfied with what it found since it issued the licence.

“The MFSA has a lot to explain. Drastic action should have happened long ago. In the US, there were serious questions about who was chief of the company. So is the necessary surveillance being carried out?”

Cassar pointed out the “two contrasting stories” – while the US had arrested the chief of the company, Malta was carrying on as if nothing were wrong. “I’m merely asking for an explanation. It is a pertinent question and the MFSA needs to clarify things.”

Zammit Lewis disagreed, pointing out that the MFSA supervisory council was the same as it was under the former Nationalist administrations. “It is incorrect to blame an authority which always functioned correctly just because it gave a licence to a bank which was not mentioned in the investigation,” he said, referring to the fact that US investigations into Hasheminejad did not in fact mention Pilatus Bank.

“In a few hours, action was taken against the person, and not the bank. Should our authorities be punished because it gave licence to a bank which was not even mentioned?” Zammit Lewis asked, adding that the police commissioner, despite not being involved, contacted the American authorities to provide assistance. “Nobody is perfect, but the institutions work, and make timely decisions.”

Abortion

Following a clip of last Sunday’s speech by Adrian Delia in which he spoke on the protection of the embryo, Debono also spoke of concerns that the Labour administration was not providing due protection to the unborn.

Debono referred to a video clip of minister Helena Dalli appearing to be “boasting” about “deceiving the public” in order for a law to be passed – implying that the government is using deception to give way for abortion. “If the prime minister is really against abortion, why doesn’t he show this in writing? The government should remove all loopholes in the law that could allow for abortion.”

To this, Zammit Lewis said that the criminal code already provides such protection. “You are confused because Edwin Vassallo voted against the bill, and you’re trying to find a compromise,” he told Debono. “There are no loopholes. Abortion is illegal in our country, and we have a policy against it.”

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