Egrant | The Pilatus suitcase and the Baku flight: a conspiracy theory with legs... and wings

How Magistrate Aaron Bugeja dismantled a conspiracy theory: the CCTV footage shows no ‘Egrant’ docs were smuggled out of Pilatus onto a flight to Baku

The day after this footage was taken, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad told the press he had flown in from New York and went straight to work at Pilatus Bank.
The day after this footage was taken, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad told the press he had flown in from New York and went straight to work at Pilatus Bank.

Perhaps the enduring image of the nefariousness of the Pilatus ‘banksters’ in their complicity in the Egrant affair was the live footage of Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, the American-Iranian bank owner slipping out of the bank with two pieces of luggage, ignoring questions by a Nationalist Party TV journalist.

It was 20 April, 2017 – the night in which the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia launched the explosive allegation that Michelle Muscat, wife of the Maltese prime minister, owned the secret Panamanian company Egrant Inc.

From then on, the narrative seemed irremediably unalterable: Hasheminejad had whisked out the crucial evidence of wrongdoing, and put it straight onto a private jet headed for Baku, Azerbaijan.

Fifteen months later, Magistrate Aaron Bugeja has put paid to that canard, that had been embraced wholeheartedly by activists, Nationalist MPs and pundits paying homage to Caruana Galizia.

CCTV footage and airline movements analysed by Bugeja paint the picture of what happened on that fateful night: Hasheminejad landed in Malta, went straight to work at the Ta’ Xbiex bank, and did not smuggle out any bank documentation.

The magistrate said Lufthansa representative Dr Andrew Chetcuti Ganado showed him Hasheminejad’s flight details when he flew in that day on LH1276 from Frankfurt.

CCTV footage from Malta International Airport shows him emerging from the airport at 11:40am and arriving at Pilatus Bank at 12:45pm, where he stayed the whole time until he emerged at 9:15pm.

Hasheminejad is seen entering with his luggage into the bank’s boardroom, putting the suitcases by the side. He removes his tablet, mobile phone, some papers and stationery from the bag which stays visible in the CCTV footage. He stays there until he exited the bank at 9:15pm.

Throughout this whole period, various employees – mainly top officer Claude-Ann Sant Fournier – is seen entering the office. At 7:24pm, Luis Felipe Rivera passes on a paper to Hasheminejad, “who appears to set aside without even paying much attention to it,” the magistrate writes.

When he leaves the bank, he puts his tablet and the papers he first removed inside the bag, as well as Rivera’s paper, and leaves.

“The allegation that he removed a quantity of papers from the bank, which were related to what Caruana Galiziahad published, does not result proven from the CCTV footage”.

The Egrant conspiracy • 'Ferry flight' leaves Luqa in middle of the night, destination Azerbaijan • [WATCH] Pilatus chairman will not comment on Azerbaijani clients, ‘Muscat family not clients’ • Muscat asks police commissioner to take Egrant allegations to duty magistrate

Hasheminejad has since then been arrested in the United States on charges of money laundering and breaching US sanctions on payments to Iranian beneficiaries before 2013.

The Baku flight: sealed before departure

Then came next day’s shocker: journalists were alerted that a private jet operated by the company Vistajet had left Malta with no cargo or passengers, and was flying to Baku in Azerbaijan. The Egrant script was writing itself, for Caruana Galizia claimed the bank had processed a transaction from Azeri ruler Ilham Aliyev’s daughter to Michelle Muscat’s account.

Bugeja investigated this allegation as well, speaking to VistaJet director Nicholas van der Meer as well as pilot Ludwig Wright, Malta Air Traffic Services representative Kenneth Chircop, and Malta International Airport head of operations Martin Dalmas.

“It turns out that the VistaJet airplane had arrived in Malta from the Ben Gurion airport in Israel on 19 April 2017 with two persons and did not have a scheduled flight. But on 20 April, at 3:43pm a request came in for a flight from Baku in Azerbaijan, to Dubai, carrying five people: four adults and a minor.

Bugeja writes that none of these names had any interest for the inquiry.

“Since this airplane in Malta was the closest the company had near Baku, it was assigned to fly there without passengers so it could then proceed to Dubai… It seems the crew was informed very late of this request and required that the flight leaves early on 21 April 2017, as confirmed by the self-same pilot,” Bugeja writes.

The arrangements necessary were made so that the flight left at around 3:30-4am on 21 Aparil to Baku, and then to Dubai. It left at 3:56am, and according to pilot Ludwig Wright, it was a ‘positioning flight’ without any passengers or cargo except for the three-pilot crew and a flight attendant and their personal belongings, which consisted of a suitcase.

“Before departure, the airplane was sealed and locked,” Bugeja writes, dispelling claims that the plane was carrying any ‘Egrant’ documentation. “It was not proven to the necessary level required by the law that this flight carried any documents related to the inquiry.”