Treasury to release Pilatus Bank stocks but accused bank accounts remain frozen

Freezing order on Pilatus Bank stocks stays in place but released into bank account

A court has authorised the Treasury Department to release the value of the stocks registerd in the name of Pilatus Bank plc, together with interest, to be deposited in the bank accounts of the accused but kept frozen under a prevailing oder.

The variation in the 2021 freezing order by Magistrate Joseph Mifusd, was published the Malta Governmnet Gazette.

The Court of Criminal Appeal had later rejected the appeal against the magistrate’s decision to reverse the freezing order on the shuttered Pilatus Bank’s head of compliance and legal.

Claude-Ann Sant Fournier’s lawyers had objected to the freezing order, which they said was “pointless and cruel”, given that the prosecution itself had admitted in court that Sant Fournier had not received any money from the bank besides her wages.

Sant Fournier was arraigned on September 2, together with her former employer, Pilatus Bank, and charged with money laundering.

She was head of compliance and legal at Pilatus Bank, which was fined a record €5 million by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) late last month. The bank was closed in 2018 after the arrest of its owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in the United States on charges of having facilitated the laundering of dollar payments from a Venezuelan housing project, to his family’s Iranian company, in what was a breach of US sanctions. That case was, however, dropped after the US District Attorney withheld evidence from the defence.

Before that, the bank was implicated in the 2017 Egrant affair, when murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed that the bank had processed a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan to the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat. The allegation was disproven by a Maltese magisterial inquiry along with other allegations she made about Pilatus Bank, but by then the banks’ other dealings for Azerbaijan had come under the lens of financial investigators.

After Hasheminejad’s arrest in 2018, the MFSA had launched a “transaction-by-transaction” review at Pilatus Bank together with the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit.