Ferris claim of Aliyeva loan to Muscat’s friend in New York contradicted by Egrant inquiry

Former FIAU official Jonathan Ferris claimed John Dalli had told him Egrant was a Labour-owned company that stood for ‘Election Grant’

From left: Johnatha Ferris, John Dalli, Negarin Sadr Hasheminejad, and Leyla Aliyeva
From left: Johnatha Ferris, John Dalli, Negarin Sadr Hasheminejad, and Leyla Aliyeva

Did Pilatus Bank really wire thousands in cash to owner Ali Sadr’s sister in London, to pass on to Michelle Muscat’s friend in New York?

The answer, the Egrant magisterial inquiry report confirms, is no. And Magistrate Aaron Bugeja went as far as calling on the police to investigate Jonathan Ferris’s claims that a $1 million transaction included money wired secretly to a friend of Michelle Muscat in New York.

This was one of several stories that Daphne Caruana Galizia published in the aftermath of her claim – since disproven by the magisterial inquiry – that Michelle Muscat was wired over $1 million in Dubai by the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan, from their bank account in the now shuttered Pilatus Bank.

“This is a load of crap,” Michelle Muscat told the inquiring magistrate in her testimony, as she read out the WhatsApp messages she had sent to Michelle Buttigieg, a Maltese migrant in New York who served as envoy for the Malta Tourism Authority in the United States.

Daphne Caruana Galizia had claimed that Pilatus Bank had wired $400,000 to Ali Sadr’s sister Negarin, a fashion designer, to be paid directly to Buttigieg in the form of a loan.

“This is such a fictitious story, people read it and found it hilarious, it is hilarious, this is hilarious, it is all a fabrication,” Muscat told the magistrate in her testimony in the Egrant inquiry.

Muscat had met Buttigieg back in her days as an assistant to former Labour leader Alfred Sant, when she coordinated a visit in New York to Maltese migrants there. Buttigieg’s husband William was part of the committee who helped organise the visit. After striking up a friendship, Muscat started marketing Buttigieg’s jewellery in Malta, under the brand name Buttardi.

Michelle Buttigieg (left) was a one-time business partner of Michelle Muscat, who lives in New York. Negarin Sadr (right) is the sister of Pilatus Bank chairman Syed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
Michelle Buttigieg (left) was a one-time business partner of Michelle Muscat, who lives in New York. Negarin Sadr (right) is the sister of Pilatus Bank chairman Syed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad

But the claim of the $400,000 loan was further reinforced by the sacked FIAU officer Jonathan Ferris, a Caruana Galizia source. Ferris told the magistrate that an FIAU compliance report on Pilatus had found a $1 million transfer from Leyla Aliyeva, $600,000 of which were passed on as a loan to Buttardi in New York.

But Ferris told Magistrate Aaron Bugeja he had not seen the report itself. “I didn’t see it. I saw a compliance report because I worked in compliance. But this came out when the MFSA and FIAU carried out their visit and found loads of breaches.”

Yet Bugeja asked forensic accountant Miroslava Milenovic to investigate Ferris’s claims, who found no such transactions or loans.

“The Commissioner of police should investigate Ferris’s allegation, and he should be given the right to explain how he came to this conclusion relative to the $1 million transfer, as has resulted from direct and documented proof that there is prima facie perjury on his part.”

‘Election Grant’

Ferris even told the magistrate that none other than former EU commissioner John Dalli had claimed with him that ‘Egrant’ stood for ‘Election Grant’: the story, as told by Ferris to Bugeja, was that before leaving the police corps, he had informed Dalli that an investigation into his role on a Ponzi scheme would be assigned to a superintendent. “Dalli took me aside and said: ‘look here, and I am telling you this because I have never met someone like you in the corps – if you want to make some noise, if you want to know whose company Egrant is… Egrant is ‘Election Grants’. It is Labour’s company.”

The fascinating aspect of the allegation is how it resonates with statements first made by Simon Busuttil back in September 2016. Answering questions during an interview at an Independence rally on 17 September, Busuttil mooted the suggestion that Egrant stood for ‘election grant’, connected to Labour’s own financing efforts.

Dalli later denied this claim when asked by the magistrate.

Ferris told the magistrate he pocketed the information, but later on in his testimony, he dwells on Dalli’s interests in Dubai. “What interest did Dalli have to mislead me when he did not even know that I would eventually have to deal with this document?” he told Bugeja.

But the magistrate counters: “But information on this damn company leading to the Muscats, Dalli did not…”

“I have nothing but in the FIAU compliance report on Pilatus there is an issue of interest,” Ferris says, now referring to a $1 million transfer from Leyla Aliyeva, of which $600,000 had been paid to Michelle Muscat’s friend in New York “in the name of Buttardi”.

“The source of that cash was Aliyeva and it passed quickly, in and out. They were not deposited but an outward transfer took place. They came in, and they shot back out.”

Magistrate Bugeja then says that none of the people he inquired about this allegation – former FIAU director Manfred Galdes and FIAU officers Sarah Scerrik Martina Scalpello, Alfred Zammit, Ruth Gauci, and present director Kenneth Farrugia – confirmed Ferris’s claims.