IĠM & Daphne Foundation urge govt to reinstate online access to company data

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The IĠM, Istitut tal-Ġurnalisti Maltin, together with the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation stated how Malta has opened up an opportunity for illicit activity to occur, by removing all dissolved companies’ records from the online Malta Business Registry.

In a joint statement, the IGM and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation referred to the decision taken in July by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri, when he announced that over 10,000 business records have been removed from the Registry, in an effort to “clean up” the register.

“Companies acting in an unlawful manner will now be able to complete their business, and dissolve the company with the minimal public trace of their activity,” said the IĠM and the Foundation who also stated that rather than removing data indiscriminately, Malta should increase its capacity to monitor the accuracy and legitimacy of details which companies provide.

Also, data removal leaves investigative journalists without the tools to properly investigate the background of a company and report on matters that are of great interest to the public.

Only the name and incorporation date of the company is now visible online for Malta-registered companies that failed to give official ownership information, or file annual reports. 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 IĠM and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation mentioned how the United Kingdom, to safeguard its reputation, Companies House, which is the UK’s equivalent to the Malta Business Registry, recently announced that it will no longer remove dissolved company records from its website, while also reinstating all previously removed records.

It was also mentioned how Police and regulators, in Malta and other member states of the European Union, rely on open source information to substantiate their investigatory powers and while the data is still available in-person, this option is only available to those located in Malta but international investigators will be hindered by this decision.

Illicit activity will be harder to trace and harder to prove and this will work against the objectives set out in the Moneyval recommendations, noted IĠM and the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation as they also explained how public records on struck-off or dissolved companies are a matter of public interest and journalists, police and regulators, and interested parties, need this information to corroborate their investigations.

Their calls were echoed by the Nationalist Party, which issued a statement signed by four MPs: Karol Aquilina, Mario de Marco, Claudio Grech and Kristy Debono.

They insisted that in present circumstances, Malta should avoid implementing measures which gave the impression that it was becoming a secretive jurisdiction seeking to attract companies or individuals with something to hide.