Attorney General accused of rushing to press charges against Pilatus bank and MLRO

Magistrate lambasts prosecutors for failing to explain their estimation of there being another 50 witnesses who were still yet to testify in the proceedings, in spite of the €7.5 million magisterial inquiry into the bank

Pilatus Bank (File photo)
Pilatus Bank (File photo)

The magistrate presiding over what can only be described as the seemingly never-ending compilation of evidence against former Pilatus Bank Money Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) Claude Anne Sant Fournier, has lambasted prosecutors for failing to explain their estimation of there being another 50 witnesses who were still yet to testify in the proceedings, in spite of the €7.5 million magisterial inquiry into the bank.

As the sitting began, prosecutors Marthese Grech and Ramon Bonett Sladden, appearing for the office of the Attorney General, exhibited a number of letters rogatory and other legal documents, requesting documentation and information about account holders from Brazil, Spain, Denmark and Lichtenstein.

This earned them a rebuke from the magistrate, who asked why they were presenting them now, at such a late stage in the proceedings. As the sitting started, a court expert also exhibited another three 12 terabyte hard drives of documents taken from the bank.

Defence lawyer Stefano Filletti, appearing for the bank’s former MLRO, Claude Anne Sant Fournier, objected to the AG’s requests to the foreign jurisdictions, arguing that the law only allowed such requests for information in cases where it can be shown that the request was indispensable.

Filletti said it was “incredible” that after a magisterial inquiry which took years to complete and cost the taxpayer €7.5 million, the subsequent involvement of a host of experts, as well as another local investigation taking place after the magisterial inquiry, that this indispensable evidence was somehow missed.

Equally suspicious was the fact that this was being raised a year after the commencement of proceedings, said the lawyer. “So if it is true that this evidence was indispensable, how come nobody identified this missing information.

“How could the prosecution proceed against the accused without having all the indispensable evidence in hand,” Filletti submitted, adding that the problem with the prosecution’s request was that, if acceded to, all the legal procedural timeframes would be suspended in terms of law and these investigation orders could take further months, if not years, to be concluded.

Filletti, not for the first time in these proceedings, accused the prosecution of knowingly stultifying the criminal proceedings against the Pilatus representative, “and this to the prejudice of the accused who will definitely not be given a fair trial in a reasonable time, in breach of her fundamental human rights.”

Lawyer Stefan Camilleri appearing for Pilatus, also objected to the request, arguing that the prosecution had to prove its indispensable nature, while highlighting that throughout all this, the bank was under a freezing order and claiming that this new delay will further prejudice the bank’s position.

AG lawyer Marthese Grech, replied that the indispensability was found in the request itself and that in any event, the evidence would continue to be heard.

Today’s slow-motion car-crash of a sitting continued when Pilatus Bank’s former director Philip Mercieca took the stand. Before he began testifying, his lawyer, Veronique Dalli, asked the AG representatives to declare in open court that he would not face prosecution as a result of his testimony. Mercieca would not testify without this declaration, said the lawyer.

But the two prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General replied they could not bind themselves to do so, as “we need to confirm with the police inspector,” who did not attend today’s sitting. 

This reply drew the combined ire of the magistrate, Dalli and Filletti, all of whom pointed out that a decision not to prosecute must be taken by the AG, and not the police.

After sending the witness away, the magistrate gave voice to the frustration felt by everyone following this case. “This is not on,” she said, turning to the prosecutors. “The police chose not to attend these sittings, but the AG is responsible for deciding on whether or not to press charges.”

“Why did you rush to press charges, when all this testimony was left over? An inquiry like this- it cost the taxpayer millions, and then we keep on adding witnesses.”

Magistrate Frendo Dimech, herself a former deputy Attorney General, said her court would not tolerate these delays, observing that “otherwise the inquiry took place for nothing.”

The court repeatedly asked the prosecution how many witnesses it had left, but the AG lawyers seemed unable or unwilling to give even a ballpark figure. The answers seemed to hover at around the 50 mark, but “I cannot be sure,” protested Grech.
“Then let me ask a question,” said the magistrate. “Why were these people charged? I don’t need an exact number. Why are you being evasive?”

Lawyer Kathleen Grima, defence counsel to Sant Fournier, together with Filletti, told the court that she “could understand the AG’s problem, as having seen the inquiry, it left much to be desired.”,

The case was adjourned to October 5, with the magistrate setting aside a full day to hear as much of the evidence as possible,in the next three sittings.