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Whistleblower denies fraud allegations, recounts Egrant shares discovery

The woman claimed she saw two declarations of trust with the name ‘Muscat’ in the safe in the bank's kitchen and that the company name was Egrant Inc • She said she had been given a list of companies – including Willerby Inc, Tillgate Inc, Hearnville Inc, Egrant Inc and Al Sahra FZCO – and told that they were to be given special attention for payment transactions

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks
30 April 2017, 10:55am
The whistleblower was executive assistant to Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad (pictured), owner of Pilatus Bank
The whistleblower was executive assistant to Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad (pictured), owner of Pilatus Bank
The Russian former Pilatus Bank employee-turned-whistleblower at the heart of accusations tying the prime minister’s wife to a secret Panama company, has vehemently denied allegations of fraud made against her by the bank and publicly touted by the Labour Party.

The woman, who testified before inquiring magistrate Aaron Bugeja for three hours last Friday, told The Malta Independent columnist Daphne Caruana Galizia that the bank had not paid her for the months she spent employed as executive assistant to Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, the owner and chairman of Pilatus Bank.

Last week, Caruana Galizia published, on her blog, transcripts of what she alleged were declarations of trust which showed Michelle Muscat - wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat - owned shares in secret Panama company Egrant, whose ownership had become the cause of much speculation after it was revealed to have been opened at the same time as two other companies belonging to Muscat's chief of staff, Keith Schmebri and minister Konrad Mizzi.

On Tuesday this week, opposition leader Simon Busuttil claimed in a press conference that he had documentary proof showing that Schembri had received kickbacks from the citizenship scheme. He said the proof showed that three Russian individuals, who had applied for the scheme, had deposited €166,831.90 into an account in Pilatus Bank belonging to Willerby Trade Inc, owned by Brian Tonna.

Busuttil said that some days later, Tonna made two payments of €50,000 each from his Willerby accounts into another Pilatus Bank account belonging to Schembri. Busuttil later presented his evidence to magistrate Bugeja.

And on Friday, Caruana Galizia said her source was none other than the former bank employee, turned whistleblower, who also testified before Bugeja.

The woman said it was only after she complained to the Department of Industrial Relations about the bank's refusal to pay her wages, that the allegations of fraud against her were first made. Her complaint was referred to the police.

She said that it was only then that Pilatus Bank filed a police report against her, in which it claimed the woman had used the bank’s money for flights for her herself, her husband and her two children.

She said she was arrested by the police and held at the depot for a whole day before being charged with fraud. She also accused the police of confiscating her passport, making it impossible for her to travel to Russia when her mother passed away.

The woman told Caruana Galizia that when she started working at the bank in January 2016, she was given a list of companies – maybe eight or 10 names – and told that they were to be given special attention for payment transactions, and to speak to Claude-Ann Sant Fournier, the bank’s executive director, for anything to do with the companies.

“The companies included Willerby Inc, Tillgate Inc, Hearnville Inc, Egrant Inc and Al Sahra FZCO,” she said. “I knew that Al Sahra Inc belonged to the daughter of the president of Azerbaijan, Leyla Aliyeva, because I had seen the bank account opening form, but I didn’t know who the other companies belonged to at that stage.”

She said the names of the companies also stood out because of the payment transactions involving them.

“Those payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Al Sahra FZCO, always marked as loan payments, were not made to their accounts at Pilatus Bank but to accounts they had at a bank in Dubai,” she said.

Tillgate Inc is the Panamanian company that was set up for Muscat's chief of staff, Keith Schembri whilst Hearnville Inc was set up for then energy minister, Konrad Mizzi. Both Schembri and Mizzi have denied that bank accounts had been opened for the companies and have both sued Caruana Galizia for libel over the allegations.

The woman said that one day in mid-March, Sant Fournier gave her the key to the document safe and asked her to get some files.

“The safe used to be in the CEO’s office, but it had been moved to the kitchen because there is no CCTV there,” she said. “Once I had opened the safe and got the files that were needed, I decided to look quickly through some of the other documents, because now I was really suspicious and also very worried.”

She claimed she saw two declarations of trust with the name ‘Muscat’.

“I hadn’t been in the country long enough to know that it is quite a common name here; I recognised it because it is the Prime Minister’s name,” she said. “The company name was Egrant Inc and I knew that name because it was on my list. This was still before the Panama Papers, which broke into the news in April, so I had no idea of the significance of it.”

paul_cocks
Paul Cocks joined MaltaToday after having spent years working in newspapers with The Times...