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New Maltese citizens confirm accounts at Pilatus Bank, deny Efimova claims

Christopher Chandler and Mark Stoleson deny meeting Maria Efimova at Pilatus Bank offices

Pilatus Bank
Pilatus Bank's offices in Ta' Xbiex. Photo: Daniel Cilia

Two men who recently obtained Maltese citizenship have denied ever meeting former Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova at the bank’s offices or at any hotel in St Julian’s.

Last month, the Financial Times reported that New Zealand-born billionaire Christopher Chandler and Mark Stoleson, who lead a British think-tank with links to the Brexit campaign, acquired Maltese and EU citizenship through the cash-for-passports scheme (IIP).

Last week Efimova told The Shift News that she had met the two men while working for Pilatus, but a spokesperson for Chandler and Stoneson denied this. “Mr Chandler and Mr Stoleson were unaware of the identity of Ms Efimova or her circumstances and the allegations she has made involving Pilatus Bank,” until after the Shift News published the story, the spokesperson said.

While confirming that the two men have accounts at Pilatus Bank, the spokesperson said, “Stoleson was not in Malta at any time during the month of March 2016. Therefore, it is impossible that he met Ms Efimova at that time.”

The Russian whistleblower had claimed meeting both men separately, “first at the bank itself and then at a hotel in St Julian’s,” adding that these events took place in the first half of March 2016, just weeks before she was fired from the bank.

The Shift News sent questions to Chandler and Stoleson on 1 Feburary asking whether they did have an account at Pilatus and when had they visited Malta.

Chandler and Stoleson never received envelopes from Efimova,  according to their spokesperson who also said that if they did ever receive any delivery from Pilatus Bank “this could only have comprised copies of normal documentation relating to the opening of an ordinary bank account.”

Efimova, a former employee of Pilatus Bank, fled Malta because she fears for her life after revealing information about PEPs who held accounts at the bank. She later sued the bank for not paying her salary. Pilatus Bank then charged Efimova with misappropriating funds.

In court, Efimova had said that she regularly received sealed envelopes to deliver to bank clients residing at hotels and claimed that on two of these occasions she delivered envelopes to Chandler and Stoleson.

“I recall meeting Stoleson and his partner at the bank who I accompanied to the conference room where they held a meeting with Pilatus Bank’s CEO Hamidreza Ghanbari and Brian Tonna of Nexia BT,” Efimova told The Shift News, adding that she was then instructed to place some documents inside Stoleson’s file.

A few days later, Efimova claimed, Chandler was also present at the bank’s offices in Ta’ Xbiex and Efimova said that she was instructed to purchase €600,000 in bonds for Chandler.

However, in an open letter to The Shift News, the spokesperson for Chandler and Stoleson said that at no time did Chandler instruct anyone at Pilatus Bank to purchase, or purchase on his own account, €600,000 of bonds. He also said that neither of the men ever met Brian Tonna.

“This is a complete fabrication,” the spokesperson said, adding that Chandler and Stoleson complied with every aspect of a “highly regulated” Maltese citizenship programme application process, which even cursory research demonstrates includes extensive due diligence, as required by the Maltese authorities.

Chandler and Stoleson, the spokesperson said, “filed their applications for Maltese citizenship in August and July 2015, after months of preparatory work, at a time which pre-dated the passing of the UK’s European Union Referendum Act 2015, and long before the (unexpected) referendum result in June 2016. Put simply, both Mr Chandler and Mr Stoleson applied Maltese citizenship long before Brexit and their decision therefore had nothing to do with Brexit.”

Rich individuals can obtain Maltese citizenship, against a fee of €650,000, as well as €150,000 in government bonds and a €350,000 investment in property. Physical presence is required for residency.

Pilatus Bank is owned by Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, an Iranian who travels on a St Kitts & Nevis passport acquired through Henley and Partners, who are also the concessionaires of Malta’s money-for-citizenship scheme.

Before last year’s snap election, Efimova corroborated information on declarations of trust to journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was assassinated on 16 October.

The documents linked the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat to Egrant, revealed in the Panama Papers. The Prime Minister and his wife have denied the allegations, but the issue is the subject of a criminal magisterial inquiry.

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