Case over failure to prosecute Pilatus bank officials will not be held in public, court says

Sitting in civil case filed by Repubblika requesting a judicial review of state decision to not prosecute senior figures at Pilatus Bank will take place in private

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

Sittings in the civil case filed by rule of law NGO Repubblika, requesting judicial review of the State’s decision not to prosecute senior figures at Pilatus Bank, are once again to take place in private.

When today’s scheduled sitting began before Madame Justice Doreen Clarke, lawyers Fiorella Fenech Vella and Kevin Valletta from the Office of the Attorney General, asked that the case be heard behind closed doors.

The request was opposed by Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi. “So we hear it in secret?” he said, suggesting that only the testimony about the investigation, which would be deposed by the Attorney General and FCID police inspector Pauline D’Amato, be withheld from publication.

Fenech Vella argued that it had been decreed that Repubblika needed to file a note, indicating the individual documents that they wanted to be exhibited from the massive inquiry file. 

Azzopard said this process was still ongoing. “We are talking about almost 500,000 pages. We are painstakingly going through it to identify the pages to exhibit and keep it to the bare minimum.”

The judge then retired to chambers while waiting for State Advocate Chris Soler to arrive .

At one point during the fifteen minute wait, the lawyers representing both parties were called into the judge’s chambers.

When the sitting resumed, with the State Advocate now present, the judge announced that unless she decreed the opposite, the case will be heard behind closed doors.

How did we get here?

The NGO had filed the case - an action for judicial review of the decision by the Attorney General not to prosecute former Pilatus advisor Mehmet Tasli and former chief risk officer Antoniella Gauci - in July last year. 

The case had initially been assigned to Mr. Justice Christian Falzon Scerri, who had, last October, 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.

Falzon Scerri 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.

In November 2021, that judge had ordered the proceedings to  temporarily take place behind closed doors, due to separate ongoing proceedings abroad before the  World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), binding the lawyers and parties present during the sitting not to  reveal what was said.

Tasli and Gauci featured in a list of seven subjects indicated in the Pilatus Bank inquiry as suspects over money laundering and other financial crimes and whose prosecution was being recommended. The inquiry by Magistrate Ian Farrugia into the now shuttered bank had reached its conclusions in December 2020 and international arrest warrants against the foreign subjects were signed by the magistrate a couple of months later.

Magistrate Farrugia had recommended criminal action against Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, bank operations supervisor Luis Rivera, director Ghambari Hamidreza, supervisor Mehmet Tasli, chief risk officer Antoniella Gauci, money laundering reporting officer Claudanne Sant-Fournier, and Pilatus Bank as an entity.  

Only Sant-Fournier and the bank were charged, however. The case against the two is ongoing.

Tasli was not arrested despite returning to Malta to testify in a separate case just a month after police charged the bank and Sant-Fournier.