Pilatus Bank nolle prosequi case: Judge to initially hear testimony behind closed doors

A judge has partially acceded to the request by the Attorney General to testify behind closed doors in Repubblika’s Pilatus case ‘not to violate confidentiality of linked proceedings before a foreign court’

Pilatus Bank was shuttered by the ECB and the MFSA in 2018
Pilatus Bank was shuttered by the ECB and the MFSA in 2018

Attorney General Victoria Buttigeg and State Advocate Chris Soler have asked a judge presiding the case filed against them over the failure to prosecute senior figures at Pilatus Bank to hear the case behind closed doors so as not to violate the confidentiality of linked proceedings before a secretive foreign court with which Malta has no treaties.

The move comes after the Iranian owner of Pilatus Bank, Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, launched an international legal bid to deter law enforcement authorities.

Through a Hong Kong-based company, Alpene Ltd, which is owned by Ali Sadr, an urgent request to suspend the proceedings in Malta was filed in front of the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  ICSID has been described as “a private, global super court that empowers corporations to bend countries to their will.”

The request was made in the context of an ongoing case, which is not being heard in public, filed by Alpene against Malta, in which it is accusing Malta of unfairly targeting the bank, using it as a scapegoat for Malta’s FATF greylisting, with a view to expropriating it and claiming millions of US Dollars in damages.

Judge Christian Falzon Scerri who is tasked with hearing the case filed by Repubblika, in which the NGO is seeking confirmation that the Maltese authorities had issued an order not to prosecute senior ranking officials at Pilatus Bank, in spite of what Repubblika say is clear evidence of wrongdoing, cautiously accepted the request, in the face of stiff resistance by the NGO’s lawyer, Jason Azzopardi.

At the end of a heated exchange of submissions, the judge ruled that the proceedings would temporarily take place behind closed doors, binding the lawyers and parties present during the sitting not to  reveal what was said.

State Advocate Chris Soler said that the defendants could not even bind themselves to bring evidence of the decision given - which was described as a procedural order delivered by ICSID.

Buttigieg and FCID Police Inspector Pauline D’Amato had been ordered to testify today by the judge, after a last-minute exchange of applications and decrees in which the AG accused Repubblika of ‘hiding behind’ irrelevant sections of the Media and Defamation Act to conduct a “fishing expedition” for documents which they could not prove even existed.

Any order to reveal the contents of a criminal investigation would “breach the presumption of innocence” as protected by the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights, argued the AG. This argument, together with objections raised by the defendants, had been roundly rejected by the judge in a decree issued yesterday afternoon.

Repubblika, through its lawyer Jason Azzopardi, is alleging that AG Victoria Buttigieg had issued what is known as a nolle prosequi - an order not to prosecute- vis a vis Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, its operations supervisor Luis Rivera, the bank’s director Ghambari Hamidreza and bank official Mehmet Tasli. 

On October 10, Mr. Justice Christian Falzon Scerri had upheld Repubblika’s request to order police inspector Pauline D’Amato to testify and exhibit all instructions, as well as any correspondence exchanged between the FCID and the Attorney General’s Office regarding claims that Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg had issued an order not to prosecute senior Pilatus Bank officials.

The court had ordered the FCID Inspector to appear in court to give background and context behind the requests for international and European Arrest Warrants that she had filed before inquiring magistrate Ian Farrugia in February 2021. The court had also ordered her to exhibit copies of the international or European Arrest Warrants and give the court a first-hand account of the actions taken by the FCID from December 2020 to June 2022, following the conclusion of the magisterial inquiry into the bank.

Today's sitting continued behind closed doors.