The Hasheminejad enigma: what Americans revealed about Pilatus Bank chairman

LONG READ • 1,500 words | Details of the wealth and history of the mysterious Pilatus Bank owner have been revealed in filings of the US prosecutor charging him on bank fraud

   Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was said to have at least four passports, from St Kitts & Nevis and Iran, as well as residence permits in numerous countries he lived in, such as Switzerland, Turkey, Belarus and the UAE
Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was said to have at least four passports, from St Kitts & Nevis and Iran, as well as residence permits in numerous countries he lived in, such as Switzerland, Turkey, Belarus and the UAE

United States prosecutors filed a reply to a New York court to oppose Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad’s request for bail, describing him as a flight risk who was “a sophisticated, well-connected, international businessman with immense wealth and influence”.

Hasheminejad was arrested in Virginia as he returned to his Washington home, charged with bank fraud and breaching US sanctions against Iran. He is accused of having funneled some $115 million through the United States on behalf of Iranian entities, including his family’s company Stratus, from a Venezuelan construction project to companies in Switzerland and Turkey.

His assets in Pilatus Bank in Malta have now been frozen.

In the reply to the New York southern district court, Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman revealed that the young Hasheminejad arrived in the US applying for asylum, but later became a St Kitts and Nevis citizen, and today carried with him at least four passports.

“Sadr [Hasheminejad] has repeatedly represented… that he could not flee to Iran because that would endanger [his] life. In actuality Sadr has travelled on over 20 occasions to Iran between 2010 and 2015,” the prosecutors said, displaying air ticket itineraries as proof of travel to Tehran, “voluminous and unimpeachable email communications”, business records and financial evidence.

How he was arrested

On 18 March, Hasheminejad flew from Dublin to Washington DC, arriving for a one-day trip. He was arrested the next day at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport before boarding a flight to London, where Pilatus has another office.

Hasheminejad stated to prosecutors that he had approximately $1.6 million in assets, comprising his $1.5 million Washington DC residence, $20,000 in cash, $70,000 in a personal account, and a $35,000 vehicle. He also said his monthly income was approximately $21,000 as the owner and operator of companies Altitude Capital, Pilatus Bank, Sapene LLC and Pitache LLC. He also declared some €50,000 located in Turkey and additional business accounts in Cyprus that “generated” between $2 million to $3 million a year.

“Sadr is an extremely wealthy and well-connected individual whose family controls a billion door corporation in Iran,” the prosecutor said of Hasheminejad, the son of Iranian banker Mohammad Sadr Hashemi.

The prosecutors also told the court that Hasheminejad and Pilatus Bank are under investigation for money laundering in Malta – something they confirmed through law enforcement officials.

Hasheminejad’s lawyers proposed a bail package that included a $10 million bond to be secured by some $2 million in cash or property – both his Washington residence and his mother’s $250,000 apartment in Maryland. He also said he would pledge half the money from his account in Cyprus where he said he was looking to build a four-storey building.

Immigration fraud

The prosecutors accused Hasheminejad of making false statements to US immigration authorities over the years in an effort to gain asylum in the country, and that while claiming that his life would be in danger if he returned to Iran, he regularly travelled to Iran.

Hasheminejad initially sought asylum in the United States in 2003, telling immigration authorities that he was “applying for asylum now because I am certain that if I return to Iran my life would be in danger.” He described how his family had problems with the ruling regime in Iran and how he was once tortured by Iranian authorities because of his political beliefs.

In 2004, immigration authorities granted him application for asylum.

But in 2010, immigration authorities revoked the asylum because they determined that Hasheminejad’s attorney had submitted a fraudulent affidavit on his behalf. Specifically, Hasheminejad had submitted an affidavit in Farsi to his attorney that described his fear of persecution in Iran, but its translation contained significant omissions and embellishments when compared with the original Farsi affidavit.

Hasheminejad was ordered to appear at the immigration court in November 2010, but left the country voluntarily prior to that appearance. In 2012, he submitted another affidavit to immigration authorities explaining why he had not appeared in immigration court as directed, and claimed that he left the country in 2010 because he was in “dire” financial circumstances and his financial situation in the United States and Europe had “deteriorated”.

Hasheminejad also reiterated that “the only reason I filed the asylum case was because I possessed a genuine fear of return to Iran.”

But the US prosecutors said these statements were demonstrably false as emails obtained through a series of search warrants showed. Between 2010 and 2015, Hasheminejad travelled to Iran on well over 20 occasions to conduct business and visit his family. In one email, dated 21 November 2011, Hasheminejad discussed travel with his father and stated: “Ok baba, I’ve changed the tickets, and changed your appointments, and I’ll see you in Tehran tomorrow morning.” Or on 21 December 2011, he told another individual that he was currently in Venezuela but would bring materials with him “to Tehran”.

Additionally, Hasheminejad’s statements in his 2012 immigration affidavit regarding his financial circumstances were said to be “grossly exaggerated”: despite reporting that he was in dire economic circumstances as of 2010, by 2012 Hasheminejad reported to the United States Department of the Treasury that he had approximately $37 million in assets.

This was right about the time he was starting the licensing process in Malta to start Pilatus Bank.

Global citizen

The US prosecutors also said that it appears Hasheminejad has at least four passports.

Interestingly, his Washington residence was listed for sale at around 1 February, 2018, and that listing was removed on about 31 March after the arrest, suggesting that he had no intention of residing at that property before he was arrested.

An employee who works at the front desk of the building of the Washington residence stated during an interview with FBI agents that Sadr has never lived in the Washington residence and that the employee had not seen Hasheminejad since before Christmas.

Hasheminejad spent approximately seven weeks in the United States in 2017 and approximately eleven weeks in the United States in 2016.

Only before his arrest Hasheminejad, his wife and children were in London. During the past two years alone, he had spent substantial time in London, Turkey, and Malta. And previously, between 2013 and 2015, Hasheminejad travelled over 100 times, including multiple trips to Istanbul, Zurich, Dubai, London, Malta, and Tehran. At various times since 2010, Hasheminejad has represented that he resides in Dubai, Belarus, Switzerland, and the United States.

The prosecutors also said Hasheminejad appears to have potentially as many as five passports – four from St Kitts & Nevis and one from Iran, none of which have expired – having used them interchangeably when travelling. A previous assertion that he had an expired passport from Belarus turned out to be incorrect. But it appears that he had resided in Belarus at one point.

Hasheminejad obtained his St Kitts & Nevis citizenship in 2009 through the citizenship-by-investment programme there for $250,000. Five years later, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCen”) would issue an advisory warning that the citizenship-by-investment programme was being used to obtain St Kitts & Nevis passports for the purpose of engaging in illicit financial activity.

Multi-million wealth

The prosecutors also accused Hasheminejad of “consistently underrepresenting his assets and overseas entities and accounts” to the Department of the Treasury.

For example, for calendar year 2012, Hasheminejad reported approximately $37 million on his foreign bank account report (FBAR), including individual bank accounts in Zurich and Dubai of $4.2 million and an account for a Hong Kong entity totalling approximately $33 million.

For 2013, he reported approximately $46 million including individual accounts in London, Dubai, and Zurich of $11 million and business accounts for entities based in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Turkey, Malta, and the United Kingdom for at least $35 million.

For 2014, he reported $47 million, including $8m from London and Malta and $39m from Hong Kong, Switzerland, Turkey, Malta, and the UK. In 2015, he reported $16 million on his FBAR, including two individual accounts in Malta for $320,000 and $16m from Hong Kong, Turkey, and the UK. And for 2016, he reported approximately $1.5 million, including an individual account in Malta of approximately $290,000 and business accounts for entities based in Hong Kong totalling approximately $1.25 million.

“Significantly, Sadr consistently failed to disclose several entities and accounts, including some related to the offense conduct in this case,” the prosecutors said, namely the Clarity and Stratus Turkey accounts at a Swiss bank which had at least approximately $23 million and $4 million, respectively, in 2012.

In 2013 alone the Stratus Global Investments account in Switzerland had a $33.5 million balance from which Hasheminejad wired $1.79 million to a British Virgin Islands entity. Similarly, he controlled two other entities and their associated bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates which he failed to disclose: First Canton General Trading and Stark General Trading, both with accounts at a UAE bank, from which he wired $500,000 to Pilatus Bank.

“Sadr offered no explanation for the precipitous decline of his assets between 2014 and today, a period during which he established and controlled a private bank in Malta that reportedly managed approximately €300 million in assets. In fact, according to Sadr’s representations to the US government, his assets have inexplicably been depleted by almost 97% since 2014.”

Indisputably, Hasheminejad has access to striking wealth, something the US prosecutor said allowed him to “travel whenever he wants and wherever, and to do so covertly”.

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