Finance Minister Edward Scicluna snubbed an invitation to appear before a Panama Papers inquiry committee meeting held in Brussels yesterday.
Speaking during the committee meeting, Greens MEP Sven Giegold lamented that the European Council had effectively made an agreement not to cooperate with the committee.
Mr Giegold, a fierce critic of Malta’s tax regime, theorised that Prof. Scicluna’s decision not to appear before the committee was a consequence of the European Council’s legal position not to collaborate with the inquiry.
Both the Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister, Konrad Mizzi, and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, ignored questions and numerous reminders sent by Times of Malta on whether they intended to appear before the committee that will be visiting Malta next month.
A working document produced by the committee highlighted how secrecy could be ensured by creating a “fog with a chain of ownership through different jurisdictions, assigning nominee directors or nominee shareholders to an offshore company, using bearer shares, nominee shares or trusts among other methods”.
A consequence of the European Council’s legal position not to collaborate with the inquiry
Both Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri held their Panama companies anonymously through trusts in New Zealand.
The committee’s document pointed out that complexity contributed to lack of transparency. It said those seeking secrecy understood this and created complex webs of corporations and trusts to make it more difficult for enforcement agencies to trace flows of illicit funds and identify the true beneficiaries of illicit activities.
The Panama Papers committee has been tasked to investigate alleged contraventions and maladministration in the application by the European Commission or member states of EU laws on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion.
At yesterday’s meeting, MEPs complained about the lack of cooperation the committee had been receiving.
Mr Giegold said the committee was not faring well. He said it needed to step up efforts to get its hands on the Panama Papers documents to move the inquiry forward.
Committee chairman Werner Langen said three EU member states had agreed to forward numerous documents to the committee “soon”. He said the countries most affected by the Panama Papers scandal were the ones cooperating the least.
Mr Langen said the committee would likely have to seek an extension of its one-year mandate to carry out the inquiry. He lamented the fact that the committee was powerless to force member states to work with it.