Judge rejects freezing order on Pilatus official

The official's lawyers described the freezing order as 'pointless and cruel'

The Court of Criminal Appeal has rejected an appeal against a magistrate’s decision not to impose a freezing order on shuttered Pilatus Bank’s head of compliance and legal.

Claude-Ann Sant Fournier’s lawyers had objected to the request for a freezing order, which they said was “pointless and cruel” in view of the fact that the prosecution itself had admitted in court that Sant Fournier had not received any money from the bank besides her wages.

In a decree handed down this afternoon, Madame Justice Consuelo Scerri Herrera observed that at this early stage in proceedings where it had not even been decided whether or not to indict the accused, confiscation of proceeds of the crime could not be carried out against Sant Fourner’s assets as “according to the testimony of the Prosecution, she does not have any proceeds of this criminal activity in her possession.”

The judge ruled that the freezing order would offer no safeguard to the loss of the proceeds of the crime and would only serve to cause Sant Fournier great prejudice, which would be disproportionate to the legitimate aims of the issuing such an order.

In this particular case, were the court to impose the order, it would be breaching Sant Fournier’s constitutional right to property. Such an order would not serve as a precautionary tool, said the judge “but only one of prejudice to the accused.”

The Attorney General’s request for the freezing order was rejected.

Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Calleja Grima are appearing for Sant Fournier.

A shuttered bank and a €5 million fine 

Sant Fournier was arraigned on September 2, together with her former employer, Pilatus Bank, and charged with money laundering.

She was head of compliance and legal at Pilatus Bank, which was fined a record €5 million by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) late last month. The bank was closed in 2018 after the arrest of its owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in the United States on charges of having facilitated the laundering of dollar payments from a Venezuelan housing project, to his family’s Iranian company, in what was a breach of US sanctions. That case was, however, dropped after the US District Attorney withheld evidence from the defence.

Before that, the bank was implicated in the 2017 Egrant affair, when murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed that the bank had processed a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan to the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat. The allegation was disproven by a Maltese magisterial inquiry along with other allegations she made about Pilatus Bank, but by then the banks’ other dealings for Azerbaijan had come under the lens of financial investigators.

After Hasheminejad’s arrest in 2018, the MFSA had launched a “transaction-by-transaction” review at Pilatus Bank together with the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.