Financial crime: 7,218 suspicious reports filed to FIAU in 2021

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In 2021, 7,218 suspicious reports were filed by subject persons (SPs), marking an increase of over 2,000 STRs over 2020, the FIAU revealed today.

In its Annual Report tabled in Parliament this afternoon, the Unit said that the Unit had shared 8,443 intelligence reports with both national and international competent authorities, and with counterpart FIUs. This is an 86% increase on 2020. The FIAU submitted over 70 analytical reports to the police indicating a reasonable suspicion of ML/FT and over 400 other disseminations consisting of additional intelligence reports and spontaneous intelligence reports. These results clearly show that although 2021 was a very challenging year, the team at the FIAU continued to work relentlessly to improve its operations. 

The FIAU said that the first six months involved intensive work to continue to implement all the recommendations made by MONEYVAL. Nevertheless, during the June plenary, the FATF decided to grey list Malta on the basis that three effectiveness issues out of the original 58 had not been fully addressed. These concerned the identification of accurate beneficial ownership information and the imposition of effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions in cases of non-compliance; and the need for increased focus of FIAU financial analysis on serious tax offences and related money laundering and the enhanced use of FIAU intelligence in support of the detection and investigation of these offences 

It added that the second part of the year therefore saw extensive work being carried out to implement the action plan agreed with the FATF to increase effectiveness in the three areas of concern and to put Malta firmly on track to be considered for delisting within the shortest period of time possible. Despite the FATF June plenary outcome, 2021 was nevertheless considered a successful year, with a number of significant achievements and improvements having taken place to further improve Malta’s AML/CFT framework. 

The report also referred to improvements to the FIAU’s technological tools. These included ongoing updates and further development to the FIAU’s IT operating systems for submission of suspicious reports and for the assessment of subject person ML/FT risk. Further development was also carried out to improve the Centralised Bank Account Register functionality.  

Increased investment in training of staff was also undertaken. This is driven – the report says, by the need to constantly update and improve expertise, due to the rapid and ever-changing nature and challenges posed by money laundering and funding of terrorism, with new trends and typologies continuously emerging. These changes present challenges on all levels of operations, be it intelligence, supervision and enforcement. The FIAU constantly strives to keep abreast of developments and updates its practices and operations as deemed necessary.  

2021 saw also an increase in staff compliment, with ongoing recruitment across various sections. New teams and roles were introduced to continue to strengthen the effectives of the FIAU. The headcount increased from 98 at the end of 2020 to 115 at the end of 2021. The largest increase was seen within the Supervision Section, as ongoing and effective supervision is critical to the fight against ML/FT. This was followed by the increase in intelligence analysts to cope with the increasing workload. 

In line with FATF’s expectations, the Supervision Section, apart from engaging in the regular supervisory cycle, engaged in a specific supervisory exercise, in relation to beneficial ownership obligations. Between September and December 2021, 40 thematic examinations focusing on these obligations were carried out to assess compliance and the risks involved. These examinations were carried out on Company Service Providers (CSPs) providing services to Maltese registered entities and focused on various obligations.  

Apart from intelligence analysis and supervision, the FIAU’s role includes also the enforcement of compliance and the provision of guidance and outreach to SPs. The Enforcement Section increased engagement with SPs undergoing enforcement actions, and in addition to the imposition of financial penalties where necessary, it also required numerous remedial actions and guided and supported SPs to improve their AML/CFT controls.  

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