Unexplained wealth orders absent in proceeds of crime bill

The government has presented an extensive bill seeking to boost the recovery of proceeds of crime as a crucial review by Moneyval – the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering body – draws near.

But as the opposition’s justice spokesman Jason Azzopardi highlighted, a provision allowing for unexplained wealth orders (UWO) – which allows assets to be seized whenever their origins cannot be justified, without the need for conviction – was notably absent.

This summer, MaltaToday had reported that Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had actually intended to provide for UWOs, only to find disagreement in Cabinet.

The bill would allow for non-conviction based confiscation of proceeds of crime, but only in three specific situations: where the perpetrator absconds or is not in Malta, where the perpetrator is dead, or where the perpetrator dies before the conclusion of criminal proceedings.

Whilst he emphasised that the Opposition would vote in favour of the bill – “it cannot be against a bill like this” – he insisted that UWOs were necessary if one truly wanted to combat organised crime. He highlighted how one could easily find people living far beyond their stated means.

On his part, Zammit Lewis highlighted that the bill was drafted according to the recommendations made by Moneyval, as well as UN Security Council resolutions and EU directives on the matter.

He also emphasised the importance of introducing non-conviction based confiscation, noting that the law allowed for legal remedies for those who wished to contest such orders.