Tuesday, July 16, 2024

MGA accuses foreign law firms of ‘aggressive advertising’

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The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) has accused German and Austrian law firms of “very aggressive advertising” to encourage customers of Maltese gaming companies who may have lost money to seek legal aid, a spokesperson for the authority said on Thursday.  

The authority had been made aware of “very aggressive advertising…  (in these countries) on buses, television and radio, for a number of years”, the authority said. 

“At this point, the majority of Austrians and Germans know full well that… they can claim back their losses.” 

This was “particularly damaging to problem gamblers by telling them there’s no risk,” it said.  

The MGA’s comments came at a technical briefing for the media on Thursday, where the contents of Bill 55 – a new law aimed at protecting Maltese gaming companies from foreign litigation – were explained.  

Bill 55 seeks to prevent the enforcement of judgments handed down against Maltese gaming companies in foreign jurisdictions. 

Last week, Times of Malta reported that the European Commission (EC) had confirmed it was assessing the claim by German and Austrian lawyers that Bill 55 will undermine European rule of law.  

In a reply sent to the Austrian law firm and German lawyer who first brought the bill to its attention, the EC had said it was “assessing the compliance of the draft law with Union law,” and would be contacting the government if necessary. 

When asked if the Commission had contacted Maltese authorities directly on the matter, the MGA said there had been “an indication that there has been an interest from the commission’s side”.

Last week, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri defended the bill, citing the legal concept of “‘public policy”.

“Every country looks after its own interests. What we are doing here is protecting the public policy of our country,” he said, adding that the bill had received cross-party support.

The term ‘”public policy” is usually applied to concepts that are seen as integral to a country’s laws.  

When asked if citing public policy could be seen as a generous interpretation of the term, the MGA defended the claim.  

“It’s not something we created because it was convenient,” the MGA said, pointing to the Bill’s bipartisan support as justification, though admitted that the use of the term was not straightforward.

“This perhaps is not the most clear-cut example of what typically may be seen as public policy… That does not mean it is an incorrect application of it,” the authority said. 

Last month, it was reported that Austrian and German lawyers Karim Weber and Benedikt Quarch had written to the EC accusing the Maltese government of undermining European rule of law through the bill.

They accused Economy Minister Silvio Schembri of fast-tracking the changes to “accommodate the gaming companies registered in Malta”.

Their clients had won a series of cases abroad leading to judgments that ordered the companies in Malta to pay back the money they had deposited and lost.

The gambling companies had offered their services “in blatant violation of Austrian and German gaming laws,” they alleged. 

In Thursday’s briefing, the MGA said that following changes to German law in 2021, Maltese companies have been allowed to seek licensing in the country and that legal action from German companies predates that year. 

Despite the introduction of the Bill, which is expected to be signed into law before Parliament’s summer recess, Maltese gaming companies will not enjoy blanket protection, the MGA argued on Thursday. 

The scope of the new law was “restricted,” they said, and does not preclude “any action whatsoever” from being taken against a licensee. 

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