Daphne Project: 50 companies owned by Azeri ruling elite have Pilatus Bank account

In the latest instalment of the Daphne Project, journalists report how by 2016 Pilatus Bank held more than 60 accounts linked to the children of senior political figures in Azerbaijan

The Aliyev sisters Arzu (left) and Leyla
The Aliyev sisters Arzu (left) and Leyla

Members of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite have used Pilatus Bank to move millions into Europe and invest in a variety of businesses across the continent, according the Daphne Project.

In the latest instalment of the consortium’s investigation, it has been claimed that a network of up to 50 companies, holding some 60 accounts and a majority of the bank’s €250 million deposits, were opened for the children of senior political figures in Azerbaijan.

Back in February 2015, MaltaToday had revealed that Azeri businessman and polo enthusiast Manuchehr Ahadpur Khangah had set up seven holding companies in Malta, under the auspices of Nexia BT.

A US embassy cable leaked to Wikileaks in 2010 suggested he holds both an Azerbaijani and Iranian passport.

According to these same cables, in which the US embassy in Baku profiled the most powerful families in Azerbaijan back in 2010, Khangah was said to be in business with the children of minister for emergency situations Kamaladdin Heydarov.

Read more: Pilatus Bank, Nexia, an Azerbaijani millionaire and a €627,000 loss

The US cable claimed that Khangah was the CEO or “front man” of a substantial portion of the Heydarov family conglomerate.

The latest information on Azeri interests at Pilatus Bank, published on Monday by the Guardian, France TV and the Times of Malta - three partners in the Daphne Project - states that over the past three years, several networks of companies appear to have used the Pilatus to invest in businesses in Spain, France, Georgia, the Ukraine and Montenegro.

The bank's clients include companies that hold the Azeri families assets.

These include an investment in the Sofitel five-star hotel on Dubai’s Palm island as well as the Mercure Dubai Barsha Heights, Azerbaijan’s Gilan Holding conglomerate – one of the country’s largest businesses – three French manufacturers of porcelain, bed linen and Smurf figurines, a five-star hotel in Georgia, two London townhouses with a combined worth of €18 million and a €26 million Spanish property portfolio.

According to France TV, the land on which the Sofitel Dubai The Palm was built, is owned by Sahra FZCO, which also owns the company that the Mercure Dubai Barsha Heights is franchised to. 

Sahra FZCO was alleged by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia to have been used to transfer upwards of $1 million to the Panamanian company Egrant Inc, which she claimed belonged to Michelle Muscat.

Egrant allegedly also held an account at Pilatus Bank. The Muscat's have denied the allegation, calling it the biggest lie in Malta's political history.

Read also: Joseph Muscat, Konrad Mizzi confirm meeting Pilatus owner