Prime Minister Robert Abela said today that any Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the upcoming Moneyval assessment are “distinct from one another.”
The Prime Minister also expressed his surprise at how the government has been criticised for not doing all it can to avoid being greylisted by Moneyval, but has also at the same time been criticised for reacting in such a manner for it to pass the Moneyval assessment.
Abela was asked by journalists about a SOFA which was reported to have been agreed upon with the USA, with the agreement coming as something to possibly instigate a more favourable American review of Malta in the Moneyval assessment later this year.
Initially, Abela refused to react to the reports, saying that if there is an agreement signed it will be signed with complete transparency.
Asked whether the deal is due to money laundering, with the implication being that it is in return for a favourable review from the USA, Abela said that no deal has been signed and that what is discussed in Cabinet must remain confidential, but that any agreement signed will be signed transparently.
However it was here that Abela added a key remark, saying that he is “surprised” at how on one hand there is a push, which he agrees with, to do everything not just to pass the Moneyval test but to fight money laundering in general; and on the other hand there is “resistance that when this government seems to truly be reacting, because it is convinced on its own principles, there is a whole attack for us not to do anything”
“It’s the same with the reforms we did on rule of law and governance – first there was a lot of criticism because we did nothing when in truth we did a lot; now suddenly it’s like nobody is liking what we are doing – let’s be consistent.”
Abela however clarified when asked again that he could not understand the ties between any SOFA and Moneyval, and said that the two are “distinct from one another.”
Asked by this newsroom about concerns related to how an agreement such as this may affect Malta’s neutrality as stated in the country’s constitution, Abela said that any agreement that may be signed will “safeguard the principles of our constitution and our country’s laws.”
Asked why the agreement has come about now, after years of discussion, so close to the Moneyval assessment, Abela said that the very fact that it has been on the table of discussion for years shows that it has nothing to do with the Moneyval assessment, because years ago there was no such assessment taking place.
The SOFA deal was reported by Times of Malta on Tuesday morning, and will reportedly be one of the key points of discussion in a visit to Malta by the US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper on Wednesday.
Such an agreement establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel, including the military, in the host country – in this case, Malta.
Any such deal will have to obtain a two-thirds majority in Parliament before it can come into effect.