The arrest of Pilatus Bank owner Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in the US “gives us new hope that the wheels of justice are finally starting to turn and that justice can finally be done,” according to former Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil.
Speaking to The Shift News, Busuttil said that despite all the warnings on the bank’s activities Prime Minister Joseph Muscat “did nothing and made sure our institutions did nothing too. This is why I have long been saying that what is at stake here, is justice, the rule of law and ultimately, our democracy. And this is why the news of Sadr’s prosecution in the US gives us new hope.”
Sadr, the (former) chairman of the controversial Pilatus Bank, was arrested in the US on Tuesday in what former anti-money laundering investigator Jonathan Ferris said was “the beginning of the end”.
“What happened in the US on Tuesday should have happened in Malta a long time ago. Certainly before last June’s election,” Busuttil said.
On Wednesday, Ali Sadr was ordered to step down from the bank by the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA).Malta’s financial regulator ordered his removal as bank director, suspended his voting rights as a shareholder of the bank and ordered him to refrain from exercising legal and judicial representation of the bank.
The MFSA’s supervisory council which held an emergency meeting on Wednesday also ordered Pilatus Bank to suspend any banking activity related to any of its shareholders, directors, senior managers and anyone connected to them.
Reacting, MEP David Casa said, “Ali Sadr is Pilatus Bank. Pilatus Bank is Ali Sadr. Removing him from his directorship when he is the Ultimate Beneficial Owner is a sick joke”.
The bank now also needs to get MFSA clearance before moving any of its assets and warned that the regulator is considering introducing further measures.
As the Pilatus Bank saga continues to put Malta under the international spotlight Busuttil put the blame squarely at Muscat’s feet, who he said is solely responsible for damaging the country’s reputation.
“Let there be no doubt. There is one person who is singularly responsible for the incalculable damage that has been caused to our country’s reputation – and that is Joseph Muscat,” he said.
The former PN leader said Muscat has politically captured public institutions and effectively stopped them from functioning following the Panama Papers revelations and a host of other major scandals that should have been prosecuted in Malta, including the long-standing money laundering allegations on Pilatus Bank.
Busuttil added that slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia “paid the ultimate price for exposing all this filth. I was accused of being her mouthpiece because I led the political fight against the corruption that she exposed. But, at every twist and turn, she is being proven right. Her courageous work lives on even after her death. And thanks to her, justice will finally prevail.”
The former Opposition Leader had presented evidence in court that led to an ongoing criminal magisterial inquiry into the findings by the FIAU, Malta’s anti-money laundering agency.
US arrest ‘vindicates our mother’s work’
The three sons of the murdered journalist said the US authorities have ended the impunity with which Ali Sadr operated.
“Their action vindicates our mother’s work, but it has come at a terrible cost. One of our mother’s sources, a woman who worked at Pilatus Bank, now sits in an Athens prison cell, and our mother is dead,” they said.
The Shift News spoke to the Hellenic police on Wednesday who said the Russian whistleblower, who had corroborated Caruana Galizia’s revelations that Panama company Egrant belonged to the Prime Minister’s wife, was being held in jail in Athens after she handed herself in the previous day.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Matthew, Andrew, and Paul Caruana Galizia said Malta’s authorities failed to hold Ali Sadr to account, “leaving our mother, Daphne Caruana Galizia, to do so alone. Ali Sadr threatened our mother relentlessly, claiming she caused his Malta-based bank, Pilatus Bank, reputational damage.”
While the Maltese police were pursuing the Pilatus Bank whistleblower with a European arrest warrant obtained on false charges of misappropriation of a few hundred euros, her former employer was facing charges for laundering hundreds of millions, they said.
“As if a more damning indictment of the institutional failure in Malta were needed,” the Caruana Galizias said.
They added that until there is an independent inquiry into Maltese institutional failure, Malta will remain a haven for people like Ali Sadr.
“He may finally face justice for some of what he’s done, which gets us closer than we have ever been to broad justice for our mother’s work. We wish our mother was alive to see it happen,” her sons said.
In May 2017, the Pilatus Bank owner brought a $40m lawsuit against Daphne Caruana Galzia in the US without ever notifying her about it. He withdrew the case on 17 October 2017, the day after she was murdered.
“We found out about this only in January this year. On the day of her assassination, his lawyers sent letters, which we have seen, to Maltese media threatening similar multi-million dollar lawsuits for reporting on our mother’s investigations,” they said.