Repubblika files protest against AG for refusing to charge Pilatus Bank top brass

Attorney General accused of persistently refusing to charge a number of high-ranking individuals recommended for prosecution in the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank.

Rule of Law advocacy NGO Repubblika has filed a judicial letter against the Attorney General accusing the State prosecutor of persistently refusing to charge a number of high-ranking individuals recommended for prosecution in the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank.

Repubblika said this refusal was unreasonable and showed bad faith on the part of the AG. “The defendant’s decision, in effect, not to charge or prosecute…as they had been ordered by the inquiring magistrate in March 2021 is exactly the opposite to a ‘reasonable’ decision,” reads the judicial letter, signed by lawyer Jason Azzopardi.

Repubblika’s judicial letter states that Malta’s courts had had established that “decisions by a public authority are unreasonable if they are manifestly unjust; if they disclosed bad faith; if they could find no justification in the minds of reasonable men”, adding that this definition applied to the AG’s decision not to prosecute, after receiving a 500,000 page report from a magisterial inquiry which cost the taxpayer €7.5 million.

“The defendant made her decision in 2021. She decided to obey (in part), that which she had been ordered to do by the inquiring magistrate only with regards to Pilatus Bank as a company and [the bank’s Head of Legal Affairs and Money Laundering Reporting Officer] Claude-Anne Sant Fournier.”

Even then, the NGO points out, the bank and its Head of Legal Affairs have exclusively been charged with money laundering, and not other criminal charges which had also been ordered by the inquiring magistrate. The magistrate’s orders for the issuing of International Arrest Warrants had also been ignored by the AG, it said.

“She [Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg] decided to completely disregard/defy, ignore and show contempt towards that which the inquiring magistrate had ordered…” said the NGO, stressing that the law obliged the AG to file charges and that the crimes in question were punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of almost 20 years.

The NGO rued what it described as the “irreparable harm inflicted on Malta’s international reputation.”

Repubblika formally requested the re-opening of the Egrant inquiry, which had been concluded over 15 months ago, in 2021, stating that foreign forensic experts had uncovered a reason to re-investigate, from scratch, whether the alleged $1 million payment to Egrant had truly taken place, due to the parallel accounting system used by Pilatus Bank to carry out money laundering.

A judicial review of the AG’s decision not to prosecute was also requested in terms of the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, with Repubblika not ruling out taking court action in Malta and abroad should this not happen, in order to it be seen that everyone was equal before the law, “instead of the reign of impunity which the defendant is continuing to cultivate.”

The judicial letter comes two weeks after Repubblika filed challenge proceedings against the Commissioner of Police in which prosecutorial inaction against the persons identified for prosecution in the conclusions to an inquiry carried out by Magistrate Ian Farrugia.

In the conclusions to the inquiry, which are normally not released to the public, the magistrate had ordered the police to press charges against several Pilatus bank officials.

This emerged two weeks ago, in a press conference held outside court, when Repubblika president Robert Aquilina had revealed that through his own sources in his capacity as a notary public, as well as from investigative journalist sources and local news reports, he knew that the inquiry’s conclusions had ordered the prosecution of the owner and director of the defunct bank, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad; its director, Hamid Reza Ghanbari; CEO Mehmet Taşlı, as well as accounting officer, acting MLRO and risk manager Antoniella Gauci, and Chief Operating Officer Rivera Luis Felipe, over breaches of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, making false declarations to a public authority and participating in a criminal association with the intention to commit an offence which was punishable with more than four years imprisonment.

The inquiry, which concluded last December, had also found documentary evidence showing trading in influence between Hasheminejad and Keith Schembri – former chief of staff and right-hand man to disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.

The revocation of the Malta-based private bank, controversial for its close association to members of the Azerbaijani ruling dynasty, came in March 2018 when owner Hasheminejad was arrested in the U.S.A. But in an unprecedented turn of events, after first being found guilty by the New York court, the United States District Attorney filed a nolle prosequi, effectively throwing the sponge over a grievous error in withholding evidence from the Hasheminejad defence team. The courts have since expunged the guilty verdict.

The application comes less than a fortnight after Repubblika filed challenge proceedings against the Commissioner of Police citing similar inaction against the individuals identified for prosecution by the inquiring magistrate.

Asked during a press conference outside court this morning as to whether there had been any developments in this regard, Aquilina said that a sitting had been allocated in late October.

This was unacceptable in such an urgent case, he said, adding that Repubblika would be requesting the recusal of Magistrate Nadine Lia, who was appointed to preside the challenge proceedings. This would lead to even more delays, Aquilina said.