Updated | Joseph Muscat confirms having attended Pilatus bank owner’s wedding

Wedding of Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad attended by Prime Minister, chief of staff Keith Schembri, and Allied Newspapers director Austin Bencini and wife Juanita Bencini, the IFSP president

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed having been one of the attendees at Ali Sadr Hasheminejad's wedding in 2015
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed having been one of the attendees at Ali Sadr Hasheminejad's wedding in 2015

Updated at 9:10pm with statement from Austin Bencini

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has confirmed having been one of the invitees to the wedding of Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in 2015.

Hasheminejad was arrested on Monday by US authorities at Dulles airport, Virginia, US, on charges of having breached US sanctions against Iran.

Muscat and his wife Michelle Muscat were invited to Hasheminejad's wedding in 2015 together with Keith Schembri, his chief of staff.

In a comment to MaltaToday, a spokesperson said Muscat and his spouse are invited to dozens of other weddings. "The same question you are asking was answered to the Sunday Times of Malta, but they chose not to publish the PM's reply. They attended the wedding which they combined with a personal holiday in Italy," the spokesperson said.

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Another guest at the wedding was Allied Newspapers director Austin Bencini, whose wife Juanita Bencini is President of the Institute of Financial Services Practitioners and a consultant at KPMG, the auditors of Pilatus Bank.

The prime minister's spokesperson said various financial services professionals were in attendance, and that the prime minister also met "the chairman of one of the world's top multinationals" at the wedding - Ahmet Muhtar Kent, a former CEO of the Coca-Cola company.

The spokesperson also confirmed that in the past five years, Hasheminejad was hosted twice by the Prime Minister for lunch and meetings with investors interested in Malta "as part of a number of such events he hosts on a regular basis", when asked whether the two men had met during other events.

The spokesperson added that the Prime Minister informed Magistrate Aaron Bugeja of the fact when called to testify in the magisterial inquiry requested by Muscat himself in the Egrant affair.

This confirmation of attendance is significant, following a Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit compliance visit that established that Keith Schembri was of ‘high familiarity’ with Hasheminejad.

“Yes, I was invited and attended the wedding together with many other Maltese and foreigners,” Schembri told the Times of Malta.

FIAU reports leaked to the press have shown that Schembri did own an account at Pilatus Bank but he played down the familiarity with Hasheminejad. Schembri has also denied taking interest in the licensing of Pilatus Bank.

Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested in the US for allegedly evading US sanctions against the country of Iran, with prosecutors claiming that more than $115 million was paid in US dollars from a Venezuelan-Iranian housing project, using the US banking system for Iranian beneficiaries.

Allied reiterate confidence in Bencini

In a statement later in the day, Bencini said his presence at the wedding in 2015 was in his "private capacity". Bencini said that today he has explained the circumstances of his presence at the wedding to his colleagues on the board of directors at Allied Newspapers. "They accepted my statement and reiterated their confidence in me," Bencini said.