Abela defends SOFA, dismisses links with Moneyval test

Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has defended government’s plans to sign a military agreement with the United States and has dismissed any links in Malta’s effort to pass the looming Moneyval test.

On Tuesday morning, the Times of Malta revealed that ministers have agreed to back the controversial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

In the afternoon, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs said that no such agreement exists and that the country is no closer to signing an agreement with the United States or NATO.

Quoting senior government sources, the daily newspaper said that the deal which was backed this summer, was done in hope of securing Washington’s support to help avoid Malta being placed on the international money laundering list.

While the US has sought to sign such agreement, it was always met with local resistance.

Fielding questions outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday following the news, Prime Minister Abela said that no agreement has been as of yet.

Abela insisted that the SOFA agreement had nothing to do with the upcoming Moneyval test, saying that two were distinct. Several reports hinted at the US making use of its clout on the international Financial Action Task Force (FATF) as leverage to push through the military deal.

The prime minister said that he would not react to a media report and insisted that he could not reply on allegations concerning matters discussed at a cabinet level as he cited confidentiality issues.

He maintained that the government was being attacked for doing the “very thing” that its critics wanted. He expressed surprise that on the one hand the country was doing its utmost to tackle the issue of money laundering while on the other hand the government was being subjected to criticism whenever it tried to implement something.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs also echoed Prime Minister Abela saying that there is no relationship between SOFA and the FATF/Moneyval.

It added that Malta has introduced various reforms relating to good governance over the past months and continues to receive positive assessments from international institutions.

Abela remarked that any agreement which will be signed will respect Malta’s neutrality clause.

Last night a plane belonging to a flotilla of American aircraft arrived in Malta, sources have told Newsbook.com.mt. The plane arrived ahead of the alleged talks over the SOF agreement.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson referred Newsbook.com.mt to the government of Malta when asked whether Malta is close to signing the controversial deal which would grant the US jurisdictional powers in the country.

The spokesperson maintained that the Moneyval assessment and the Financial Action Task Force measures are not a political process but rather rigid analytical processes designed to protect the integrity of the world financial system.

“There is no negotiation, no lobbying, no “wish list” or cutting of deals in exchange for anything, as recent press reports erroneously suggest. Only the multinational FATF retains the authority over the final decision to greylist Malta or another jurisdiction,” the spokesperson stressed, adding that the US Embassy appreciated the government’s efforts to implement the Venice Commission recommendations.

Further the spokesperson said that it has responded to requests for assistance training to meet FATF requirements by the government.

“We are partners, and the nations of Europe and the United States have an interest in seeing Malta succeed,” the spokesperson concluded.

SOFA: Not consulted – PN

The Opposition criticised the government for having decided to back the SOF Agreement without consulting it, despite its implications on Malta’s constitution and its foreign policy.

In a statement signed by Opposition Leader Adrian Delia and shadow foreign minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, the Opposition called on the government to be transparent about the deal.

‘Our country is independent and sovereign with clauses relating to the country’s neutrality and non-alignment in its constitution. Such a decision by the Labour-led government would have an impact on the constitution, the country’s basic law, and the country’s sovereignty,’ the statement reads.

The Opposition called on the Prime Minister to explain the government’s position and the impact of its decision.

Unacceptable – Bernard Grech

Partit Nazzjonalista leadership hopeful Bernard Grech stressed that Malta’s sovereignty could not be compromised as he backed the position taken by Partit Nazzjonalista earlier on Tuesday.

The leadership candidate said that it was unacceptable that the government would negotiate issues outlined in a Status of Forces Agreement without consulting the Opposition and without ensuring national consensus.

He noted that the country’s constitution does not allow for Malta’s sovereignty to be negotiated in such a way.

Make it public – AD and PD

Alternattiva Demokratika and Partit Demokratiku have called for any draft of any Status of Forces Agreement with the US to be made public immediately.

“It would be unacceptable for the Opposition Leader, the Prime Minister and his cabinet to come to an agreement secretly to avoid public scrutiny,” the two minor parties said in a joint statement.

AD and PD said that any military defence agreements or anti-smuggling operations, when and if necessary, should be through a common EU defence cooperation mechanism, as a partnership amongst equals.

AD and PD maintained that any US contractors and military personnel temporarily passing through Malta or in Maltese waters should be subject to the Maltese justice system and all laws and regulations like all other citizens, residents and organisations based in Malta.

US Forces do not need special status to combat smuggling in international waters.

The two parties pointed out that the US is not signatory to the International Criminal Court, adding that it could not be trusted to stick to internationally agreed standards of conduct, neither in peace nor in war.

“It is also pertinent to note that the US Navy refuses to divulge to countries it visits whether it carries nuclear warheads on particular ships or whether ships are nuclear powered. Our harbours should be nuclear free, and the US is in no position to guarantee this.”

Humiliating and unconstitutional – Moviment Graffitti

Activist group Moviment Graffitti has condemned the possibility of having a SOF Agreement with the United States saying that the constitution clearly states that the country is neutral. It added that it foreign military forces are explicitly prohibited from setting foot in Malta.

The NGO said that if the reports prove to be correct, the present Labour-led government would be betraying what former Prime Minister and Labour-leader fought for and achieved. It warned that the US would be able to commit crimes in Maltese jurisdiction and act against the country’s interest with relative ease and impunity.

“Not only is this clearly unconstitutional, but it also makes Malta a promoter of war and military aggression. It is indeed sad to see that the Maltese Government is ready to use nationalist slogans against the most vulnerable – asylum-seekers – but then accedes to an agreement that is humiliating to our country and against our interests. It is also ironic that the Maltese Government enters into an agreement that promotes war while at the same complaining about the “burden” resulting from refugees feeling these wars.”

Moviment Graffitti said that President George Vella is legally and morally bound to reject this agreement due to its evident unconstitutionality. The group called on Maltese people, especially PL activists who have fought for Maltese neutrality to oppose the deal. It added that further initiatives against the deal will be announced in the coming days.

 A SOFA agreement establishes the rights and privileges of foreign personnel, including the military, in a host country.  Any SOFA deal will have to obtain a two-thirds majority in parliament before it can come into effect.