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article image'Malta Files' contain no secrets, says PM

By AFP     May 20, 2017 in World

There are no secrets to be found in the "Malta Files", a cache of leaked documents being pored over by European newspapers, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat insisted Saturday.

Having come under pressure after his family became embroiled in the Panama Papers scandal, the premier earlier this month called new polls for June 3.

"Nothing in the Malta Files is actually secret. Claims of offshore companies in Malta are factually incorrect," he told reporters.

"We will be solid against this attack which we had long seen coming," he said, alluding to the allegations.

Muscat was elected with a strong majority in 2013 but his tenure has been riddled with allegations of corruption and mysterious dealings with countries such as Azerbaijan.

News outlets have started publishing their Malta Files findings and more information will be released over the next two weeks, just before the elections.

The Panama Papers scandal involved a massive data leak from the Mossack Fonseca law firm that revealed the secretive offshore entities used by many of the world's wealthy to stash assets.

The months-long "Malta Files" investigation into tax evasion, money laundering and corruption has mobilised 49 journalists in 16 countries, according to the French online news site Mediapart.

The journalists have a list of people and entities linked to 53,247 companies registered in Malta, thanks to a 150,000-document cache.

- 'A competitive system' -

German authorities last week said they had opened a probe involving up to 2,000 companies registered in Malta on suspicion of tax fraud, after receiving an anonymous tip.

The Maltese premier, however, defended his nation's tax regime.

"I say we have a competitive system, and the complaint of other countries is not that these companies must not exist, but that they want the tax these companies pay," he said.

Malta, a Mediterranean island with a population of only 430,000, is an EU member and it currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency.

According to Mediapart Malta, the island's arrangements deprive other countries of $2 billion (1.8 billion euros) of tax receipts per year.

Among the 13 news outlets participating in the investigation are Belgium's Le Soir, German daily Der Spiegel, Italian magazine L'Espresso and Spanish daily El Mundo.

Some French business leaders have registered yachts on the island to benefit from lower taxes and social charges, reducing the costs of crews on the vessels, according to Mediapart.

L'Espresso reported that Italian nationals owned "by far" the largest amount of companies on Malta, around 8,000.

Last month thousands took to the streets in Malta to protest against corruption after an investigation revealed hidden offshore companies of the country's energy minister, Konrad Mizzi, and his chief of staff, Keith Schembri.

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