Prosecution accused of misleading court in Pilatus impasse to summons witnesses

“Who are you trying to kid?” exclaimed the magistrate, warning that she could find the lawyers in contempt. “You are trying to hoodwink the court! You are an embarrassment to the Office of the Attorney General!”

The former Pilatus Bank headquarters
The former Pilatus Bank headquarters

A court has been asked to order five former top Pilatus Bank officials, including its Maltese former resident risk manager, to testify in ongoing money laundering proceedings against its former MLRO (money laundering reporting officer) and Head of Legal.

Lawyer Stefano Filletti, representing defendant Claudeanne Sant Fournier, made the request this morning, as the compilation of evidence against her and the bank itself continued befoer Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech.

Only one witness was summonsed to testify today: a lawyer from a corporate services provider who helped set up Malta International Construction Ltd, a now struck-off company at one time under the directorship of Ali Sadr Hasheminejad – also the owner and director of Pilatus Bank. The witness declared that 20% of the share capital, €400, had been paid up. 

Filletti questioned the relevance of this testimony, accusing the AG of drawing out the proceedings and burying the case under irrelevant evidence. “A year has passed now,” he said. Prosecutor Anthony Vella asserted that the evidence was pertinent.

However, when asked by the magistrate to confirm if this was the prosecution’s final witness, as had been stated in previous sittings, Vella replied he was unable to do so, given that the prosecution was still awaiting replies to letters-rogatory sent for other witnesses residing abroad.

Vella was even unable to confirm whether further Maltese witnesses would testify – the tipping point for the magistrate, who had up till this point patiently allowed the sitting to proceed. “You are not just breaking the court: you are shattering it!” she remarked, exasperatedly.

With the remaining foreign witnesses in Italy, UK and Bosnia, it seems the police are unable to trace them, which is why the AG is waiting on the letters rogatory.  But when the court asked why these witnesses had not been identified at the start if they were indispensable to the prosecution’s case, the magistrate observed they were “completely lacking in the necessary requisites which would permit a court to decide on the indispensability of the requested witnesses” and denied them all, saying it was “evident that this was a fishing expedition.”

The defence said it was surprised at the fact that these witnesses had not testified during the magisterial inquiry that had already cost the taxpayer €11 million. “No stone was left unturned, so we cannot understand why the prosecution is insisting on exhibiting more evidence than that exhibited in the inquiry.” This was leading to the useless prolonging of proceedings, to the detriment of the accused’s right to justice within a reasonable time, Filleti said, adding that the prosecution was responsible for this.

“Today an exhaustive list of witnesses was supposed to be exhibited, but we are told that the one exhibited today was not conclusive,” observed Filletti, pointing out that at least one of the bank officials not summoned was Maltese. “Ali Sadr, Hamidreza Gambari, Mehmet Tasli Luis Rivera and Antonella Gauci have not testified in these proceedings. This is surprising to the defence because, from the testimony we’ve heard, these are the five most relevant witnesses to this case.”

“With respect, besides evidence about setting up and due diligence and passing due diligence with flying colours, we haven’t heard anything. There was no evidence of money laundering, rather that the bank had been correctly set up and managed,” he said, suggesting that it would have been better had the five individuals he mentioned been made to testify.

“If the bank is accused and Claude Anne Sant Fournier is accused, they did not act alone, but with the help of these five individuals, against whom no charges have been pressed.”

“Therefore the rule of inadmissibility of the testimony of a co-accused is not triggered, so they are all admissible witnesses,” added the lawyer.

“With regards to two of them, we have learned that the AG gave two of them a nolle prosequi - Antoniella Gauci and Mehmet Tasli.”

Sant Fournier had been charged, but others whose role was more important than hers, including Gauci and Tasli had not, he argued. “If the AG thinks they should benefit from a nolle prosequi, then so should Sant Fournier and the Bank,” Filletti argued. 

“We believe that there is certain evidence which is being concealed and not exhibited in court. We are requesting that all of these individuals be summoned to testify.”

Magistrate Frendo Dimech stressed that the conclusions of the Pilatus Bank inquiry had been misinterpreted. “As I recall, the inquiry doesn’t order that charges are to be pressed against individuals. It recommended further investigation.” 

“Who are you trying to kid?” Court asks prosecution before ordering the records of case be sent to the AG

Asked by the court to identify the remaining witnesses, Vella handed the magistrate a list, informing her that it “wasn’t final.”

This was the final straw for the magistrate, who noted that the names were for the same people whom the court had just refused to issue letters rogatory for. “Who are you trying to kid?” exclaimed the magistrate, warning that she could find the lawyers in contempt. “You are trying to hoodwink the court! You are an embarrassment to the Office of the Attorney General!”

The court dictated a note in the acts of the proceedings. “There are no words to describe this behaviour, which luckily, the court recognised during the sitting. The court is duty bound to bring this note to the attention of the Attorney General herself so that she can be made aware of that which took place today under the signature of her officials.”

“You are misleading the court… you have nowhere to go here. Don’t try to wing it,” warned the magistrate. Vella protested that the error had not been done in bad faith. But, asked by the court whether he had actually seen the letters rogatory, Vella admitted that he hadn’t. “You were roped into this,” said the magistrate, “I know you well enough. Do you think I’m an imbecile? You’re lucky I’m not reporting you to the Commission [For the Administration of Justice]. Victoria [Buttigieg, Attorney General] probably doesn’t know about this. How can you, not you Dr Vella, you as an office, think that this will be accepted?”

Saying that it was “not fair that the Attorney General is not aware of what is happening in her cases,” the magistrate ordered that a copy of the acts be sent to the AG, also ordering her to read all of the notes previously dictated by the court.

The case was adjourned to next month.