How Pilatus banker Ali Sadr Hasheminejad played hide-and-seek with the Americans

Ali Sadr Hasheminejad regularly travelled to the United States from Malta. But an investigation into the circumvention of Iran sanctions finally caught up with him, less than a year since his private bank was plunged into a national scandal. We trace the steps of the investigation

Pilatus chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad played hide-and-seek with the Americans before his arrest
Pilatus chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad played hide-and-seek with the Americans before his arrest

Iranian national Ali Sadr Hasheminejad gloated in a 2011 email that the plan to stay below the US sanctions radar was bearing fruit.

It was July and the email informed a business associate that a transfer of $20.7 million was being made from a Venezuelan company.

“It seems like our strategy has worked so far,” Hasheminejad finished off his message, which forms part of a cache of emails obtained by the US authorities investigating the man for breach of sanctions against Iran.

Hasheminejad has been identified by the Americans as the person at the centre of an Iranian conglomerate that had to build 7,000 housing units in Venezuela in exchange for almost half a billion dollars.

The mere use of dollars meant that the parties to the deal had to use American banks to clear the financial transactions, something that was impossible to do for an Iranian company.

Long-standing US sanctions against Iran prevent American companies from getting involved in any transactions or deals with Iranian companies and individuals, and the Iranian government.

This meant that Hasheminejad and his Iranian associates, including his father and sister, had to create companies in Switzerland, Turkey and Dubai to hide the Iranian connection.

Cirrus General Trading was formed by Hasheminejad’s father in Dubai in December 2009, followed by Clarity Trade and Finance that was set up in February 2010 in Switzerland.

In October 2010, another company – Stratus Turkey – was formed in Istanbul, with Hasheminejad and his father both using their St Kitts and Nevis passport to hide their Iranian identity.

These companies acted as a front, receiving payments in US dollars from Venezuela on behalf of the mother company in Iran set up by Hasheminejad and his family.

But the screening of the Iranian connection did not end there. The indictment filed by the US authorities also quotes emails in which Hasheminejad and his associates discussed changing the name of the mother company in Iran to remove any reference to the Persian Gulf country from the official name.

Another email sent by a business associate in May 2011 refers to the restructuring of Stratus and the need to find five people or companies to act as shareholders instead of Hasheminejad and other family members. The restructuring was meant to further hide the Iranian connection.

The US authorities said the Venezuelan company made approximately 15 payments totalling $115,000,000 (€93.2 million) to the Iranian company via the firms based in Switzerland and Turkey, over the period.

The indictment also shows that some of the money was funnelled by Hasheminejad to buy property in California.

Hasheminejad has been accused of conspiracy to evade US sanctions by conducting international financial transactions for the benefit of Iranian individuals and entities, including himself and his family.

He is accused of concealing from US banks services that were being provided to Iran in violation of the sanctions.

The charges brought against the man carry a collective maximum jail-term of 125 years.

The indictment only mentions Hasheminejad by name despite listing others as co-conspirators such as his father and sister. No charges have been issued against the other people.

But the indictment also shields the names of two American banks used to clear the dollar transfers and two other banks in Switzerland, where Clarity had accounts.

Is there a Malta connection?

The only connection so far is the fact that the man being charged by the US authorities, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, also owns Pilatus Bank in Malta.

However, nowhere in the 34-page indictment filed by US investigators is there a reference to Malta, or Malta-based companies.

It has to be noted that most of the transactions probed by the Americans pre-date the existence of Pilatus Bank.

But there is an overlap between the period covered by the investigation (2006 to May 2014) and the birth of Pilatus Bank in Malta.

The Malta Financial Services Authority awarded Pilatus Bank a banking licence in January 2014. Pilatus Bank plc was registered as a company in December 2013 with an issued share capital of €10 million and Pilatus Holding Ltd as its shareholder.

The holding company was registered in Malta on 7 August 2013 with its shareholder being the Hong Kong-based Alpene Ltd.

The Hong Kong company registry does not show shareholders but Hasheminejad is listed as a director, holding a St Kitts and Nevis passport. Alpene Ltd was set up on 31 August 2012.

Alpene also appears as a shareholder in the Malta-based Pilatus Capital, which was registered on 22 May 2015.

In all of the Malta-based Pilatus companies, Hasheminejad is listed as a director along with others and his place of residence is given as Washington DC, the US capital.

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