Malta’s decision to remove over 10,000 business records, including all related to dissolved companies, from its national registry will open up the country to illicit activity, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation has warned.
“Companies acting in an unlawful manner will now be able to complete their business, and dissolve the company with minimal public trace of their activity,” the foundation said in a statement.
Minister for Economy Silvio Schembri announced the initiative last July. This means that for Malta-registered companies that failed to give official ownership information or file annual reports, only the name and incorporation date of the company is now visible online. Any inquiries into dissolved or struck off companies now have to be made in person at the Registry head-office, at a price of €20 per file.
The data, which is usually available online, is a vital open-source tool for journalists in the country.
The foundation pointed to crucial investigations by Malta Today into Nexia BT’s to Manuchehr Ahadpir Khangah, a close associate of the President of Azerbaijan; Malta Independent into a web of international companies linked to the ‘Ndranghet; and The Shift News’ reports into Nexia BT’s invovlement in a private jet compnay used by former Prime Minister Jospeh Muscat.
“As past investigations have shown, cross-border collaborative investigations further the pursuit of justice and, for this reason, should not be restricted. Everyday citizens wanting to conduct a background check of dissolved companies may be financially hindered in their right to access information,” the foundation said.
Instantly purging the date will “incentivise the use of Maltese companies as getaway cars”, the foundation warned.
“Rather than removing data indiscriminately, Malta should increase its capacity to monitor the accuracy and legitimacy of details which companies provide. Greater transparency in the system will also further trust, encouraging more business ventures to occur in Malta,” it said.
The foundation is demanding that online access be reinstated, especially in view of crucial Moneyval investigations right around the corner.
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