Court rejects police bid to suspend judicial review into Pilatus Bank officials' nolle prosequi

Repubblika president Robert Aquilina questioned on how he was privy to communications between the Attorney General and a magistrate

The court has rejected an attempt to suspend ongoing proceedings of Repubblika's case for judicial review of the Attorney General’s order not to prosecute senior officials at Pilatus Bank.

On Monday, the judicial review continued to be heard in front of magistrate Nadine Lia, as three witnesses who were involved in the FCID investigation into Pilatus Bank fielded questions related to the investigation itself, as well as the nolle prosequi issued in favour of some of the bank’s officials.

Ex-inspector Keith Vella, who was regarded by his colleagues as the inspector taking the lead in the investigation was the first FCID investigator to take the witness stand. Vella told the court that he was an anti-money laundering inspector with the FCID since 2020, and had resigned in August 2021.

Vella detailed how after the investigation was completed and submitted to the Attorney General before it was sent back, as this process repeated itself for a few times. Here, the witness told the court that until August 2021, the European and international arrest warrants had not yet been passed on to the international authorities.

Next up was Inspector Pauline D’Amato who had been stationed in the FCID from March 2020 until December 2022. The witness told the court that it was her who had submitted the arrest warrants, but this was not done until December 2021.

D’Amato explained that the investigators’ plan with regards to the suspects was, “to first proceed with the Maltese suspects and then move on to the foreign suspects.”

When asked by Repubblika’s lawyer Jason Azzopardi whether she knew if Pilatus Bank official, Mehmet Taşlı was in Malta while he was being investigated, to which she responded in the negative. Similarly, Vella had previously testified that he knew about Taşlı’s presence in the country from media reports.

During the proceedings, it was stated by Jason Azzopardi that his client was privy to discussions related to why the investigation was sent back to the police more than once in 2021. Here, NGO Repubblika’s president Robert Aquilina took the witness stand, where he confirmed that he knew the reasons behind the back and forth between police and the Attorney General. 

After Aquilina, Inspector Claire Vella Borg testified as the third witness from the investigations team on the case. Vella Borg gave the court a disclaimer as she stated that she was not privy to meetings between the investigators and other parties, as she explained that she was the only investigator who was not specialised in money laundering. 

Aquilina later exhibited a pile of evidence, one of which was a copy of certain parts of the Pilatus Bank inquiry, as he explained that this was given to him by sources who are protected by law.

The witness was asked by Azzopardi about the years in which she was an inspector within the FCID, to which she responded that she had started in 2018 and remains as an inspector until this day. When Azzopardi asked how many times she encountered a nolle prosequi order, she responded, “once.”

As the proceeding was coming to an end after a few hours, a request was made to suspend the proceedings. Here it was explained that the proceedings regarded the police’s inaction to issue charges against Pilatus Bank officials, but it was noted that the only people against whom the police took no action were Antoniella Gauci and Mehmed Taşlı due to the nolle prosequi order. 

Here, the police’s representative noted that the inaction was due to the order and that the police can do nothing about money laundering suspicions since this now falls under the remit of the AG.

Rebutting the request, Azzopardi highlighted that the suspects are not only suspected of money laundering, as conspiracy, organised crime and falsification of documents all fall under the police’s remit.

After hearing the submissions, the court rejected the request. The proceedings were adjourned to 22 April.