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GSD dismisses Govt’s ‘arrogant’ response in UK listing row, drawing rebuke

Archive image of GSD Leader Keith Azopardi [left] and fellow MP, Damon Bossino. Pic by Johnny Bugeja

The GSD on Monday dismissed the Gibraltar Government’s “arrogant, patronising and personal” rebuttal of concerns it had raised over the UK’s decision to list Gibraltar as a ‘high risk’ jurisdiction.

The Gibraltar Government had previously said the UK’s decision was an “automatic” response to any country’s inclusion on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.

Gibraltar was placed on the ‘grey list’ of the FATF in June as the international organisation urged authorities on the Rock to demonstrate they are "actively and successfully" imposing sanctions and seizures following financial investigations.

The GSD had voiced concern about that move and questioned why the government had not revealed that this would happen when it made a statement in Parliament during the budget speech insisting the UK Treasury remained supportive of Gibraltar and its efforts to remove itself from the list within a year.

The Government then accused the GSD of” a staggering lack of knowledge” about a long-established process in the UK

But on Monday, the GSD said the response revealed the government’s aversion to any criticism.

“It is clear that power has gone to their heads and that they will not countenance any request for explanations or criticism,” the party said in a statement.

“That the financial services industry is in “harm’s way” is not because of the GSD statements but because of the FATF grey-listing that has occurred under the Government’s watch compounded by some statements in Parliament which are, to put it mildly, inconsistent with subsequent events.”

“If, as [Financial Services] Minister [Albert] Isola states, the grey listing by the UK - independently of the FATF - of Gibraltar was inevitable following the FATF listing then he should have set out the position explicitly and clearly when he had the opportunity during his budget address in June.”

The GSD said that “necessary clarity” would have given the financial services industry notice of what was to come.

It added that Mr Isola had “made no suggestion whatsoever” that Gibraltar would be listed by the UK as a ‘high-risk third country’, adding it was “no wonder” that industry players had expressed surprise at the decision.

“The undeniable fact is that Mr Isola’s statements have turned out to be, at best, inaccurate and, at worst, plainly misleading, if he knew on 29 June that the position was different in terms of what the UK would do,” the GSD said.

“He told Parliament that the FATF decision did not call for the application of enhanced due diligence measures and that the UK’s Treasury was ‘extremely supportive’.”

“The implication of those statements was clear.”

“They could only lead the industry to be reassured that the UK would be more sympathetic and not place Gibraltar on the high-risk enhanced due diligence list.”

The GSD said the situation “begs the question” as to why did the UK felt compelled to add Gibraltar to its “quite frankly” unattractive list of countries.

“Either Mr Isola has been caught out so that this must be the explanation for his vitriolic attack, being, in his view, the best form of defence, or he deliberately gave a misleading impression in Parliament, full well knowing the UK was going to put Gibraltar on the ‘high-risk’ list,” the GSD said.

GSD MP Damon Bossino added: “The GSD has not played ‘political football’ with this issue and instead has made measured statements on the matter.”

“That does not mean that we will not make public comment when – as is the case here – there is a marked inconsistency between the Government’s statement in Parliament and the reality.”

“The GSD continues to urge and support the Government in any way it can to ensure that Gibraltar is removed from any such lists for the sake of our reputation as a financial services jurisdiction.”

‘DON’T BE SILLY’

The Gibraltar Government took no time to react to the GSD.

In a statement late Monday, No.6 Convent Place said the GSD’s comments were “astounding after having had the position explained to them in two separate statements”.

“They simply do not understand due process into these matters which they should have considered before making public statements on the subject,” No.6 Convent Place said, adding that a GBC interviewer had also explained the position during an interview with Mr Bossino.

No.6 said that “as a matter of law and process”, the UK Treasury followed the FATF grey list fully.

It said there was no discretion and that countries were added or removed from the UK list based on FATF positions, adding it was “incredible” that Mr Bossino “cannot understand this”.

It said that in order to cover up his own errors, Mr Bossino was seeking to suggest “mala fides” – or bad faith - in the Government’s position “when there has never been anything of the sort”.

“I am at a loss as to the hole that Mr Bossino has dug himself into,” said Mr Isola.

“The position is clear and as a lawyer he should not need to be told by me or anyone else what these consequences are.”

“The UK adds a country to its list of high risk countries when it is listed by the FATF or removed. It's automatic.”

“Why did Mr Bossino not know this and make the silly suggestions he has been making?”