Tourist shops offering unlicenced currency exchange land in legal trouble
A number of business owners are expected to face criminal action after they were caught running unlicensed currency exchange services.
Sources said the businesses, mostly in St Paul's Bay and Buġibba, had been flagged to the police through a detailed tip-off in recent weeks.
Police investigations into the matter are ongoing but sources said it is expected to end with the offenders being charged in court.
According to the law, unauthorised activities under the Financial Institutions Act can be prosecuted as a criminal offence.
The businesses, mostly tourist shops, were found to be advertising the unlicensed services, including placing signs outside their shops with rates for currency exchange.
One business was even caught red-handed during a mystery shopper exercise, sources said.
"This sort of activity may appear relatively harmless but this black market money exchange can be infiltrated by organised crime groups that would use it to clean proceeds of serious crimes," a source privy to the case said.
Last week, the financial services regulator also weighed in on the matter.
In a statement, the Malta Financial Services Authority said it is looking into alleged money exchange activities that may constitute a criminal offence.
The authority said it believes this is being done "especially in tourist locations".
"The Malta Financial Services Authority stresses that unregulated activity carries a number of risks for consumers, ranging from the potential for money laundering to unofficial rates being used to the detriment of consumers," it said.
Companies authorised by the MFSA to provide services falling under the Financial Institutions Act, including foreign exchange, are subject to onerous requirements and regular supervisory checks, the watchdog said.
The authority had urged anyone with information on the activity to come forward.