Pilatus banker: Judge asks prosecutors whether omission was intentional

The judge hearing the Iran sanctions case against Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr has slammed the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for what she described as “serious concerns about the conduct of the [US] government”

Azerbaijani clearing house: when Pilatus Bank came under the lens of the Egrant magisterial inquiry, a magistrate found that the bulk of accounts were held by Azeri oligarchs, but no evidence was found that the bank was curating an account or transactions on behalf of Joseph Muscat
Azerbaijani clearing house: when Pilatus Bank came under the lens of the Egrant magisterial inquiry, a magistrate found that the bulk of accounts were held by Azeri oligarchs, but no evidence was found that the bank was curating an account or transactions on behalf of Joseph Muscat

The owner of shuttered Maltese private bank Pilatus has requested the United States courts to ensure a guilty verdict on breach of Iran sanctions, no longer stands after a rare move by the prosecutor to nullify the trial.

Hasheminejad was convicted in trial by jury in March and found guilty of five counts, the highest of which carried a 30-year prison sentence, with sentencing yet to be carried out. He had been arrested at Dulles airport, Washington, in February 2018, accused of channelling and disguising $115 million in US dollar payments from a Venezuelan housing project his Iranian family business built, to companies in Switzerland and Turkey.

But prosecutors said Hasheminejad concealed the payments to skirt Iran sanctions, as well as the beneficiaries, his family.

Last week the same prosecutors asked a judge for permission to drop the case, a rare move, citing the likelihood of Hasheminejad’s litigation over suppression of evidence. “Given the resources that would be required to address all the evidentiary issues, continuing to pursue the case would not be in the interest of justice,” they said.

District Judge Alison Nathan, in a four-page order, slammed the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for what she described as “serious concerns about the conduct of the government, from the actions that led the Court to suppress material pre-trial... to a conceded Brady violation during the course of the trial...”

A Brady violation refers to any breach of the broad obligation to disclose exculpatory evidence, which implies that the non-disclosure of evidence to Hasheminejad’s defence was so serious that there was a reasonable probability that the suppressed evidence would have produced a different verdict.

Judge Nathan ordered the government to “list all material in the case that was potentially improperly withheld from the defense” and whether the government agrees that the withholding was intentional.
Hasheminejad has now petitioned the court to have the case dismissed with prejudice so that the unlawfully obtained guilty verdict does not stand, since it could have adverse immigration consequences for him, apart from reputational harm.

Hasheminejad’s lawyers have requested an order from the court that states that there never was a judgment of conviction in this case, and that the jury’s verdict is being set aside and has no legal effect
Hasheminejad’s lawyers have requested an order from the court that states that there never was a judgment of conviction in this case, and that the jury’s verdict is being set aside and has no legal effect

The US prosecutor has confirmed in a phone call and subsequent exchange of emails, that it intended to dismiss the case with prejudice.

Hasheminejad also said he is entitled to be grant a new trial motion on the government’s multiple violations on evidence, and for the presentation “of a recklessly false case at trial”.

“To prevent any possible prejudice to Sadr (including potential immigration consequences), and to restore him to his pre-trial position, the Court’s dismissal order should specify… that there never was a judgment of conviction in this case. The jury’s verdict is being set aside and has no legal effect.... The verdict is hereby set aside and the indictment is hereby dismissed with prejudice’,” Hasheminejad’s lawyers told the court.

The nolle prosequi proposed by the US prosecution does not moot the new trial motion. But Hasheminejad is insisting that he has now suffered substantial reputational harm from the trial and the verdict.

“Indeed, the day of the verdict, the government issued a press release titled ‘Iranian National Convicted for Scheme to Evade U.S. Economic Sanctions By Illicitly Sending More Than $115 Million Through The U.S. Financial System’. The release proclaimed [Hasheminejad’s] guilt, detailed the government’s view of the trial evidence, praised the FBI, the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and the prosecutors in this case, and attached a list of the counts of conviction and the statutory maximum penalties.”

Hasheminejad said that should the court enter his proposed order, he would withdraw his motion for judgment of acquittal as moot.

“The verdict the government announced was procured unlawfully, the product of an unfair trial marred by the government’s multiple constitutional violations (now conceded). Those egregious violations prevented [Hasheminejad] from clearing his name in a fair trial. Had the government produced the unlawfully suppressed evidence to [Hasheminejad] before trial, there is a virtual certainty that the outcome of the trial would have been different, and [Hasheminejad] would have been acquitted,” Hasheminejad’s lawyers said.

“Now, the government’s dropping its prosecution means there will be no retrial. Moreover, the government’s nolle prosequi request gives vague reasons for the dismissal (including purportedly limited resources), and nowhere acknowledges any wrongdoing by the prosecutors or accepts any responsibility for this debacle of a prosecution. Granting the new trial motion will make clear that the verdicts were unlawfully obtained and are of no effect – the least that can be done to begin to repair [Hasheminejad’s] reputation.”

Hasheminejad ran a private bank in Malta, which he had licensed in 2013, and which largely dealt with millions in reserves owned by the Azerbaijani ruling family and oligarchs. His bank was implicated in the Egrant affair, when the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed the bank had processed a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan to the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat.

The allegation was disproven by a Maltese magisterial inquiry along with other allegations she made about Pilatus Bank, but by then the banks’ other dealings for Azerbaijan had come under the lens of financial investigators. When Hasheminejad was arrested in Dulles airport in the United States in February 2018, the Maltese financial regulator shut down the bank and started an investigation.

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