Pilatus arrest warrants issued in January as waiting game beckons

International arrest warrants for Ali Sadr Hasheminejad sent to United States in early 2022 but Pilatus owner yet to be located in difficult extradition case

Former Pilatus chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
Former Pilatus chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad

International arrest warrants for Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad (pictured) and other banking directors were issued by the Maltese police through Interpol at the end of January 2022. But a difficult waiting game is at hand in a bid by the police to have Hasheminejad, believed to be in the United States of America, extradited. 

MaltaToday is informed the IAWs were despatched to American justice counterparts in early 2022, requesting the extradition of Hasheminejad to Malta to answer on possible charges, yet to be filed, for facilitating large volumes of suspicious transactions that could have criminal origins. 

The IAWs were still issued late in the day, despite being signed by Magistrate Ian Farrugia in March 2021 on the back of a 600,000-page, €7.5 million magisterial inquiry into the shuttered private bank. 

Apart from Hasheminejad, who is believed to be living in the USA after his arrest and later acquittal on sanctions-busting charges, the other bank officials named in the IAWs are Pilatus Bank operations chief Luis Rivera, now living in Texas; operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli; and director Hamidreza Ghambari. 

Police have so far initiated action against Pilatus Bank as a financial entity, and former legal officer Claude Anna Sant Fournier, on charges of money laundering. The prosecution believes Sant Fournier repeatedly made unexplained “administrative mistakes” which led investigators to believe that she was assisting and abetting the laundering of money. 

Government sources following the IAW process told MaltaToday they are cautious about the prospects of extradition from the United States: “In the first place, the suspects are yet to be located. Clarifications on the nature of the possible charges will be sought, and extradition will be resisted, which means court proceedings can be expected in a bid to stall the process.” 

Pilatus Bank was shut down by the ECB and the MFSA in March 2018 after Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested by FBI at Dulles Airport, charged with breaching sanctions against Iran when he funnelled $115 million in payments to his Iranian family’s companies.  

Hasheminejad had been found guilty of evading US economic sanctions by a jury in the United States in March 2020. But four months later the guilty verdict was vacated by the US courts, and his case dismissed after the US government admitted it had withheld a piece of evidence that could have been exculpating. 

Hasheminejad also requested an affirmation that the US government would not seek or co-operate with any immigration removal proceedings against him. In reply, the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, said it would “not seek or cooperate with any immigration removal proceedings against Sadr.” 

Pilatus Bank was also fined a record €4.9 million by the FIAU for letting millions in suspect funds flow through Malta unchallenged. 

Pilatus: from Egrant, to sanctions arrest, acquittal and fightback 

Hasheminejad ran the private bank Pilatus Bank in Malta from 2013, dealing with millions in reserves owned by the Azerbaijani ruling family and oligarchs. 

His bank was implicated in the Egrant affair, when the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed it had processed a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan to the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat.  

The allegation was disproven in 2018 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.  

When Hasheminejad was arrested in the USA in February 2018, the Maltese financial regulator shut down the bank and started an investigation. 

A forensic review of Pilatus Bank found “commonly accepted red flags for money laundering” involving the daughters of Azerbaijan ruler Ilham Aliyev and the sons of his minister for emergency situations Kamaleddin Heydarov, and requested roping in the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, China and Turkey for co-operation into the investigation.  

The report identified 117 suspicious transactions from companies owned by the Aliyev daughters, such as Sahra FZCO, and the Heydarovs, to a Dubai-based company called Palma Management Consulting. 

While the Egrant inquiry found no evidence of Azerbaijani money passing to Joseph Muscat or his wife, who had no bank account at Pilatus, the foreign experts in the Pilatus inquiry recommended further investigative steps on the Egrant investigation. 

After the expungement of Hasheminjead’s guilty verdict, Pilatus’s owners Alpene Ltd filed cases in the United States law courts against the competent persons appointed by the MFSA to manage the shuttered banks’ assets. The defendants, which included a European Central Bank supervisory board member.  

One of the defendants, Elizabeth McCaul, described the lawsuits as “a continuation of Sadr’s scorched-earth litigation strategy”, accusing him of harassment “by pursuing irrelevant inquiries and invading communications and documents protected from disclosure.”  

Alpene also filed for restitution and additional compensation in a case it filed against Maltese government in the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).