Pilatus Bank official allowed to leave Malta despite arrest warrant, Repubblika charge

Repubblika file court action against Attorney General and Police over refusal to arrest Pilatus Bank operations supervisor after magistrate signed arrest warrants

A former operations supervisor from Pilatus Bank was allowed to leave the country despite an arrest warrant for him, due to inaction from both the Attorney General and the police.

The accusation was made by Repubblika president Robert Aquilina today in the light of an affidavit sworn by lawyer Jason Azzopardi, together with court proceedings which the organisation filed against the AG and the Commissioner of Police this morning, over the failure to carry out the arrests, despite the warrants having been issued by a magistrate way back in March 2021.

The affidavit was filed together with an application for judicial review of the AG’s decision not to prosecute.

In it the lawyer confirms that he had received word that in October 2021, after the 2 September 2021, arraignment of a former Pilatus Bank employee, together with the bank itself, an application had been filed requesting a variation of the freezing order imposed on them during the arraignment.

Azzopardi’s affidavit states that they had been arraigned as a result of the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry into the bank’s operations and had cost the taxpayer €7.5 million.

“I am informed that this magisterial inquiry had ordered that several persons - all of them officials and directors of Pilatus Bank, including this ex-employee and the bank itself- face criminal charges in connection with money laundering and criminal conspiracy, amongst others,” Azzopardi’s affidavit states.

The lawyer adds that he had been informed by police sources that the inquiring magistrate had signed International Arrest Warrants for these bank officials and directors, after seeing sufficient evidence to justify their arrest.

The October application had been filed before the Criminal Court as the acts of the compilation of evidence had already been sent to the AG by the compiling court at that point in time.

Azzopardi says he is also aware that in a sitting held on 28 October 2021, to deal with this application, over 9 individuals testified. “One of them was none other than Mehmet Tasli, the Pilatus Bank operations supervisor. This is the same person whom the inquiring magistrate, seven months prior, had ordered the AG to charge with money laundering, criminal association and participation in organised crime. The same person against whom the same inquiring magistrate had ordered the issuing of an international arrest warrant.  

In his affidavit, Azzopardi says he has seen “nothing to indicate that the judge presiding the hearing had been informed that the witness who was testifying before him should long have been taken into custody and charged in court.”

The same could not be said for the AG, however, Azzopardi pointed out, as during that 28 October sitting, two lawyers from the Office of the AG had not only been present, but had also cross-examined Tasli. “Not only did they not charge him, not only did they not order his arrest, but they asked him questions in court and let him leave as if nothing happened.”

Addressing the press conference this morning, Aquilina expanded on this, also telling reporters how  Tasli had testified in a 28 October 2021 sitting in Malta, but was not arrested, the warrants notwithstanding.

Only a month earlier, the police had actually filed money laundering charges against Pilatus Bank as an entity, freezing its assets, and money laundering reporting officer Claudanne Sant-Fournier.

“This is scandalous. The AG and Police’s decision not to obey the arrest warrants signed by the magistrate, has allowed these people to leave Malta, as if nothing happened. Victoria Buttigieg and Angelo Gafà are making a farse of the judicial process,” Aquilina said.

Repubblika had already filed a judicial letter on the persistent refusal to charge high-ranking individuals recommended for prosecution in the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry into Pilatus Bank.

“Organised crime in Malta has its mind at rest with Buttigieg, Gafa and Alexandra Mamo at the helm of the country’s law enforcement. We cannot alow this state of impunity carry on.”

MaltaToday understands that the police only sent the IAWs to the jurisdictions concerned, sometime towards the end of January, requesting the arrest of four Pilatus directors as well as owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, who is believed to reside in the United States of America.

“We have no route left but to take today’s action. We cannot remain passive before this,” Aquilina said. “We are requesting the courts to take action on the AG for not filing the charges requested by the magistrate in the Pilatus inquiry.”

Aquilina said the case could be an uphill battle since at law, Repubblika is not “an injured party”, a legal anomaly pointed out by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission in 2020.

Pilatus charges

MaltaToday is informed the IAWs were despatched to American justice counterparts in early 2022, requesting the extradition of Hasheminejad to Malta to answer on possible charges, yet to be filed, for facilitating large volumes of suspicious transactions that could have criminal origins. 

The IAWs were still issued late in the day, despite being signed by Magistrate Ian Farrugia in March 2021 on the back of a 600,000-page, €7.5 million magisterial inquiry into the shuttered private bank. 

Apart from Hasheminejad, who is believed to be living in the USA after his arrest and later acquittal on sanctions-busting charges, the other bank officials named in the IAWs are Pilatus Bank operations chief Luis Rivera, now living in Texas; operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli; and director Hamidreza Ghambari. 

Police have so far initiated action against Pilatus Bank as a financial entity, and former legal officer Claude-Anne Sant Fournier, on charges of money laundering. The prosecution believes Sant Fournier repeatedly made unexplained “administrative mistakes” which led investigators to believe that she was assisting and abetting the laundering of money. 

Government sources following the IAW process told MaltaToday they are cautious about the prospects of extradition from the United States: “In the first place, the suspects are yet to be located. Clarifications on the nature of the possible charges will be sought, and extradition will be resisted, which means court proceedings can be expected in a bid to stall the process.” 

Pilatus Bank was shut down by the ECB and the MFSA in March 2018 after Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested by FBI at Dulles Airport, charged with breaching sanctions against Iran when he funnelled $115 million in payments to his Iranian family’s companies.

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 verdic