Pilatus chairman arrest: Joseph Muscat passes the buck to the regulator

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat says any decision on Pilatus Bank has to be taken by the Malta Financial Services Authority • PN leader Adrian Delia calls for bank licence withdrawal

Joseph Muscat giving his first reaction to the microphones of Net News on the arrest of Pilatus Bank chairman in the US
Joseph Muscat giving his first reaction to the microphones of Net News on the arrest of Pilatus Bank chairman in the US

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has passed the buck to the financial services regulator in his first reaction to the criminal charges filed against the chairman of Pilatus Bank in the US.

In comments to Net News this morning, Muscat refused to say whether the bank’s Malta licence should be withdrawn, insisting that any such decision was up to the supervisory council of the Malta Financial Services Authority.

Read also: US arrests Pilatus Bank chairman over alleged $115 million sanctions evasion scheme

Muscat tried to deflect the issue by insisting that the licence to Pilatus Bank in 2014 was issued by the same people at the MFSA who had been appointed by the previous Nationalist administration.

Adrian Delia calls for immediate action

This morning, Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia called on the authorities to withdraw Pilatus Bank’s licence, insisting enough damage was done to Malta’s reputation by the bank and the government that has refused to act on the matter.

"The government knows this bank should have never been granted a licence... the government is now obliged to act to save the reputation of the Maltese financial services sector," Delia said.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia outside the law courts this morning
Opposition leader Adrian Delia outside the law courts this morning

He was speaking just after visiting the law courts. He said the licence had to be withdrawn immediately because every passing minute was a minute in which the world was looking at Malta and thinking 'this is not a normal country'.

"Who are we trying to protect? The financial sector or the shareholders of this bank and the few tens of account holders? The bank had been set up only to assist them in carrying out illicit transactions," Delia said.

He said he was shocked by the government's lack of will to save Malta's reputation in light of the arrest of Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in America.

Read also this explainer: Why has Malta’s Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr been arrested in the United States?

"This is a bank licenced in Malta... it should never have been given a licence. It was formed in Malta because it was not allowed to be set up anywhere else. It is a bank that was set up in a record four weeks... simply to serve the few at the expense of the country's reputation," Delia said.

He said the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister had to shoulder political responsibility for what has happened, insisting the latest development in the US was a serious blow to the country.

Adrian Delia has called for the immediate revocation of the Pilatus Bank licence
Adrian Delia has called for the immediate revocation of the Pilatus Bank licence

"The responsibility is in their laps. They must act immediately. They must shoulder responsibility. The damage is done. The government insisted on protecting criminals and they must now shoulder responsibility," he said.

Asked whether he was calling for their resignation, Delia said "responsibility must be borne", calling for an independent investigation into the licencing of the bank and all of the bank's transactions.

Edward Scicluna's tame reaction

Earlier, this morning, Finance Minister Edward Scicluna initially shunned questions by Lovin Malta on the matter, insisting "it is too early" in the day to talk about these things.

He later admitted this was a “serious matter” that required the regulator to look into the case deeply. Any decision to suspend a banking licence had to be taken by the MFSA, Scicluna said.

A spokesman for the MFSA would not take questions when contacted, insisting that MaltaToday send its questions by email.

Read also: David Casa wants British authorities to act fast on Pilatus’s London branch

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