Pilatus banker given US guarantee over immigration removal

Court vacates guilty verdict • US Attorney’s Office tells court it will not seek or cooperate with any immigration removal proceedings against Pilatus banker Ali Sadr Hasheminjead

Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
Ali Sadr Hasheminejad

US authorities will not “seek or cooperate with” any attempts to remove Pilatus bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad from the country in immigration removal proceedings, after the Department of Justice moved for the removal of a jury’s guilty verdict on sanctions-busting and fraud charges, and vacated records of his charges deleted from the Department of Justice’s website.

The banker on 17 July had his guilty verdict vacated by the US courts, with his case dismissed with prejudice and a court declaring that there was never a judgment of conviction in this case. “The jury’s verdict is vacated, and has no legal effect. Sadr’s new trial motion is granted. The government’s application for an order of nolle prosequi... is granted. The verdict is hereby vacated and the indictment is hereby dismissed with prejudice.”

Hasheminejad had been found guilty of evading US economic sanctions by a jury in the United States in March this year. He was arrested in February 2018 at Dulles airport, accused of using the US financial system to launder over $115 million in payments from a construction project in Venezuela that his father’s construction company was involved in, back to his family’s companies in Europe.

The US Attorney insisted these violated sanctions against Iran because it benefited Iranian individuals and entities.

But in an extraordinary turn of events, the same prosecutors last month asked a judge for permission to drop the case, a rare move, citing the likelihood of Hasheminejad’s litigation over suppression of potentially exculpatory evidence.

District Judge Alison Nathan slammed the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan over “serious concerns about the conduct of the government, from the actions that led the Court to suppress material pre-trial.”

Hasheminejad then 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.

Mere exoneration was not enough for Hasheminejad, who also sought the obliteration of records of the case against him.

Correspondence seen by MaltaToday shows that Hasheminejad’s lawyer wrote to the Department of Justice, insisting on the removal of press releases characterising Hasheminejad as a felon from the DOJ website. As a result of this pressure, press releases announcing the guilty verdict, issued in March had been later updated to begin with text stating that “on June 5, 2020, the Government moved to dismiss the charges against the defendant in this case Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad.”

“While mentioning the motion to dismiss in a single sentence containing no reasons, two paragraphs later the press release continues to quote the U.S. Attorney characterising Sadr as a felon.”

The press release was also the first hit returned when one searches for “Ali Sadr” on Google.

“We are surprised and disappointed that the press release remains on  DOJ’s website, particularly given that this does not appear to be an oversight but rather an affirmative decision to keep the full statement public with only a one-sentence ‘update’ that does not make clear that the case is being dismissed because the government’s constitutional violations denied Sadr a fair trial.”

Additionally, Hasheminejad requested an affirmation that the government would not seek or cooperate with any immigration removal proceedings against him, saying that such proceedings would be “completely unwarranted given that Sadr has not been convicted of (or, in light of the impending dismissal with prejudice, even charged with) any offence.”

In a reply, Shawn Crowley, co-chief of the Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit at the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York, said the press releases had been removed. “We will not seek or cooperate with any immigration removal proceedings against Sadr,” Crowley added.

Sadr ran the private bank Pilatus Bank in Malta from 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 it 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 February 2018, the Maltese financial regulator shut down the bank and started an investigation.

The family of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia said Malta should request the extradition of Hasheminejad to face any investigation into money laundering through Pilatus Bank.