October 24, 2017 / 1:05 PM / 2 years ago

EU lawmakers urge Malta money laundering inquiry after journalist's murder

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Union should investigate Malta’s anti-money laundering system, EU lawmakers said on Tuesday in response to the murder of a Maltese journalist who reported widely on financial and political corruption.

FILE PHOTO: Forensic experts walk in a field after a powerful bomb blew up a car (Foreground) and killed investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Bidnija, Malta, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was blown up by a car bomb last week, had published leaked documents on alleged money laundering cases involving top Maltese officials. EU parliamentarians said Malta now needed to show it was clean.

“The Maltese government has failed to take serious action against high level cases of money laundering in its country”, Green Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Eva Joly and Sven Giegold said in a joint statement.

“We want a serious investigation by the European Commission on Malta’s respect of the European rules against money laundering.”

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said in a letter to Green MEPs dated Oct. 23 that “based on the information available so far, there appear to be no grounds to suspect a systematic breach of Union law pertaining to the prevention of money laundering” in Malta.

But she added that the Commission had requested more information from Malta on cases of alleged money laundering involving Keith Allen Schembri, the chief of staff of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Schembri has denied the allegations.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told Reuters in an interview last week that the island’s “financial services sector is as transparent, solid and compliant as any other European jurisdiction.”

Ahead of a debate on the “protection of journalists and the defense of media freedom in Malta”, the European Parliament held a minute’s silence, at a session in Strasbourg attended by Caruana Galizia’s widower and children.

Parliament President Antonio Tajani said the parliament’s press room would be named after the murdered reporter.

He added that Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, should help investigate Caruana Galizia’s murder “as part of an international investigation where all police forces can contribute to find the culprits”.

The Maltese government has sought assistance from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and from Dutch experts to help resolve the case.

The head of the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia committee urged Malta to toughen laws to combat organized crime.

Italian investigators have traced criminal proceeds to companies set up in Malta to launder money by the southern Italian mafia groups. Anti-mafia committee head Rosy Bindi said during a visit to the island that Malta had to close legal loopholes.

“Those who order assassinations are often the ones who fear that loopholes will be closed,” she said.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Additional reporting by Chris Scicluna in Valletta and Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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