Police in process of issuing international arrest warrants in Pilatus Bank case, Gafa says

Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa said that the corps is at a stage where international arrest warrants can be issued against persons in connection with the Pilatus Bank investigation

Updated at 6pm with police statement

The police corps is in the process of issuing arrest warrants against persons in connection with its investigation into the now-shuttered Pilatus Bank, according to Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa. 

Gafa told The Malta Independent on Tuesday that police have reached a stage in their investigations where they can issue arrest warrants, although the bank and its money-laundering reporting officer were already charged last year. 

MaltaToday reported last January that the interntional arrest warrants for Pilatus Bank owners and top brass had not yet been executed, despite being signed by a magistrate in March 2021 on the back. of a 600,000 page inquiry into the bank. 

The IAWs remain pending ever since Magistrate Ian Farrugia signed them, three months after finalising the €7.5 million inquiry in December 2020.  

The arrest warrants are for Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, who is believed to be living in the United States of America after his arrest and later acquittal on sanctions-busting charges; Pilatus Bank operations chief Luis Rivera, now living in Texas; operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli; director Hamidreza Ghambari; and chief risk officer Antoniella Gauci. 

Pilatus Bank was implicated in the Egrant affair, when the late 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.

The bank’s operations became the subject of at least two magisterial inquiries, the Egrant inquiry; and a complaint filed by the former PN leader Simon Busuttil on money paid by Nexia BT partner Brian Tonna to the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri shortly after receiving payment from Russian clients who had acquired Maltese citizenship under the IIP.

Rule-of-law NGO Repubblika had filed an appeal in Court against the Police Commissioner last month over inaction against top Pilatus Bank officials.

In reaction to Gafa's statement, the NGO said it was shocking to hear the Commissioner say that the police is still working to issue the international arrest warrants in this case. 

"This step is being taken too late and is being done because the Commissioner is being forced to do his duty by civil society. All this is unacceptable," Repubblika said. "When we meet [the Police Commissioner and Attorney General] in Court we will soon show in black and white their collusion to protect criminals. We will make sure that the institutions function, whether they want to or not."

Police statement

Issuing a reaction over reports on the Commissioner’s statement, the police insisted Gafa did not say the mandate was yet to be issued, “as was interpreted” in the media.

“When Commissioner Gafa said ‘we are in that stage’, he was referring to the stage of an international mandate, which is a tool used by investigators in a process which involves foreign jurisdictions, and so can be a lengthy process,” the statement read. “He did not say the mandate is yet to be issued, as was interpreted.”