High-ranking officials from the United States of America have touched down in Malta after a fleet of large aircraft ominously descended upon the island throughout the night.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is currently meeting Prime Minister Robert Abela with the two states set to discuss a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). However, there are suspicions that other items may be on the agenda.
Photos taken by Lovin Malta suggest a high-stakes meeting with a multitude of large aircraft arriving at Malta’s airport.
One plane has been identified as a Boeing C-17, a large military transport aircraft that was developed for the US. Another is a Boeing C-37, a military-style jet usually reserved for high-ranking officials.
The planes, sources said, are usually used to carry large equipment, among other things.
US officials are reportedly in Malta to push through discussions over the SOFA agreement, which establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel present in a host country in support of the larger security arrangement.
The US has long been lobbying for a SOFA agreement in Malta.
However, Maltese governments have been reluctant to sign such an agreement due to a neutrality clause within the constitution. The deal would need a two-thirds parliamentary majority to be approved.
It appears that the government is pushing for a watered-down version of the agreement, with the US allegedly looking for access in Maltese waters to tackle smuggling operations in the Mediterranean.
Sources have suggested that pressure from a crucial Moneyval test could be behind the change in heart. Abela has dismissed the claim, insisting there is no link between the two.
After failing a Moneyval test back in September 2019, Malta was given one year to address its shortcomings in its anti-money laundering regime. Failure to do so would see Malta either greylisted or blacklisted.
Others have suggested that the significant US presence could be linked to recent allegations of an FBI investigation into money laundering and other illicit activities in Malta.
Kenneth Rijock, a financial blogger and former-money-launderer-turned-FBI informant, says FBI agents have been on the ground in Malta for weeks, that the US is seeking to extradite Muscat and that the former Prime Minister is also being accused of Providing Material Support to a Designated Terrorist Organisation. He’s said that current Cabinet members are cooperating with the investigation.
Rijock also claimed Muscat is exercising power over the current Cabinet by handing them proceeds of corruption, often in cash, and that Muscat used a trip to Miami, where Rijock himself is based, to head off to a Caribbean country to deposit illicit cash.
Last week, Rijock also alleged that the Unita di Informazione Finanziaria per l’Italia probe involves financial transactions conducted in Italy that are linked to Muscat. Muscat has vociferously denied all claims.
The US Embassy of Malta has refused to comment, telling Lovin Malta the FBI maintains a standard of practice of neither confirming nor denying any investigation.
Photo credit: Roberto Cassar