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[WATCH] Pilatus chairman will not comment on Azerbaijani clients, ‘Muscat family not clients’

Bank at the heart of allegations surrounding the ownership of Egrant Inc denies that Hearnville, Tillgate and Egrant ever held any accounts in the bank • Nexia BT welcomes magisterial inquiry

miriam
Miriam Dalli
21 April 2017, 1:50pm
Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
No member of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s family ever held an account with Pilatus Bank, nor did Hearnville Inc, Tillgate Inc and Egrant Inc, Pilatus Bank declared on Friday morning.

The denial comes after Daphne Caruana Galizia alleged that the Ta’ Xbiex bank held documents proving that Michelle Muscat, wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, held shares in Egrant – the offshore Panamanian company which Nexia BT repeatedly described as being a shelf company owned by its managing partner, Brian Tonna.

Last night, the Maltese Prime Minister held an urgent press conference categorically denying that Egrant belonged to his wife. Later on, the Office of the Prime Minister announced that Muscat had asked the police commissioner to ask a duty magistrate to start an investigation into the allegations that his family owns Egrant.

But in between the press conference and the announcement, a crew from Net TV filmed two persons emerging from Whitehall Mansions in Ta’ Xbiex – where Pilatus Bank is headquartered – carrying luggage and further fuelling speculation.

 

In comments he gave to press on Friday outside the Intercontinental Hotel, the chairman of the bank Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, who had been filmed carrying the luggage out the night before, said he had just arrived from the airport.

He said today he would not make any comments about his bank’s clients. “I can’t make comments about clients, the ones we have or we don’t have,” Hasheminejad said.

He refused to confirm or deny the existence of any of the Azerbaijani first family – the Aliyevs – as clients of the bank.

“We cannot confirm or deny anything. I am the chairman of the bank, not an executive diretcor, so I don’t know what clients we have... it’s not my prerogative to confirm or deny anything to you. I don’t know why you are referring to certain name or last name. I can’t confirm or deny anything. This is a rhetorical question you are asking, and I as a banker cannot answer that question.”

Magistrate Aaron Bugeja (right) emerging from Pilatus Bank
Magistrate Aaron Bugeja (right) emerging from Pilatus Bank
The Pilatus Bank offices in Ta' Xbiex
The Pilatus Bank offices in Ta' Xbiex
 

The magisterial inquiry, led by Magistrate Aaron M. Bugeja, appears to have started its investigations this morning, as police officers of the Economic Crimes Unit were seen entering Whitehall Mansions.

Nexia BT, the audit firm alleged to have passed on declarations of trust to Pilatus Bank showing ownership of the company Egrant, said in a statement that it welcomed the launch of the investigation. “The firm is convinced that the investigation will establish, once and for all, that the substantive allegations made against us will be disproved. Amongst other things, the firm is certain that the investigation will establish that (i) Egrant Inc. was set up as a shelf company and remained such throughout its existence; (ii) Egrant Inc. had no beneficial owner other than Brian Tonna throughout its existence; (iii) Throughout its existence, Egrant Inc. never held any bank accounts, anywhere in the world, never held any assets, including monies, and never traded.”

Nexia said it will cooperate fully with the authorities. Employees at Nexia BT were asked not to go into work today.

Pilatus Bank described the recent reports and blogposts as “containing a number of unfounded and spurious allegations”.

“Those reports and subsequent video footage appearing on local television yesterday evening are evidently calculated to damage the Bank’s integrity, reputation and good name and that of its chairman personally,” Pilatus Bank said. 

“Whilst it is the Bank’s policy not to engage in public debate on matters concerning the Bank’s business or to entertain provocations to make public statements or media releases, the Bank cannot allow its name and that of its chairman to be the object of allegations that damage their reputation, without responding in the interests of protecting their good name and reputation.”

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...