In collaboration with Tim Röhn, Nina Fargahi and Sylke Gruhnwald for Swiss digital magazine Republik.
In an interview with an international team of journalists from Malta, Switzerland and Germany before she handed herself in to Greek authorities, Russian whistleblower Maria Efimova – a former employee of Pilatus Bank – asked journalists to look at the bank’s Swiss links and her lead was correct.
On Thursday, The Shift News in collaboration with Swiss digital magazine Republik, revealed that Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad who was arrested in the US last month on charges of money laundering and evading US sanctions on Iran, had used companies in Switzerland hidden behind an international trustee called Maygold.
Maygold’s managing director, Raphael Wyss, also served as managing director at a Henley and Partners-owned trust. The present chairman of the group, Christian Kalin, was vice chairman of Henley Trust until 2013, the year elections were held in Malta electing a Labour government.
One of the first things the Labour government did was introduce the cash-for-passports scheme despite the fact that it had never been proposed in its electoral programme.
Efimova was the one to point the journalists in the right direction on investigations into Pilatus Bank’s Swiss links. It was she who dropped the name Maygold and the collaborative effort between international journalists confirmed the links she was questioning.
“I want to ask, please, maybe you can look into something else… I know the bank has a presence in Switzerland because when I was working there I came across documents. I think they are also connected to Henley and Partners as well as others. If you can, please look,” she said.
Efimova is in jail in Athens after she handed herself in to the Greek authorities a day before Ali Sadr’s arrest in the US. She is awaiting a decision on whether she will be deported to Malta based on an arrest warrant by the Maltese authorities in what has been described as a witch hunt for someone who should have been granted whistleblower protection.
Efimova was the one who corroborated the evidence held by assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia when she revealed that the company Egrant, mentioned in the Panama Papers, belonged to the Prime Minister’s wife. The allegations are the subject of a criminal magisterial inquiry for the last year.
Again, Efimova pointed journalists in the right direction. Wyss has been providing services in the name of Maygold since 2009, but the company’s roots date back two decades according to the company’s web site. It states that in 1992 Wyss joined the Marc Rich group in Zug, an affluent municipality in Switzerland, and worked for the group occupying different roles.
Marc Rich, who is named in Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires, was an international commodities trader, hedge fund manager, financier and businessman.
The Economist branded him as the ‘king of commodities’: “He sold Soviet oil to apartheid South Africa, despite a UN embargo, and between 1979 and 1994 made profits of around $2 billion there. He sent Soviet and Venezuelan oil to Cuba in exchange for sugar, ignoring America’s ban on trade. He sold on the global market surplus Iranian oil that had flowed to Israel down a secret pipeline, and kept the arrangement going seamlessly despite the Iranian revolution of 1979, another embargo, and the American hostage crisis”.
Fertile territory it seems for Ali Sadr, 38, who was charged in a six-count indictment filed in a Manhattan court accusing him of participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran.
Rich received a presidential pardon from US President Bill Clinton on January 20, 2001 – Clinton’s last day in office. Rich, a fugitive who had fled the US during his prosecution, was residing in Switzerland. Rich owed $48 million in taxes and was charged with 51 counts of tax fraud.
Critics complained that Denise Eisenberg Rich, his former wife, had made substantial donations to both the Clinton library and to Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign.
According to the independent investigation by American economist Paul Volcker on the Iraqi Oil-for-Food kickback schemes, Rich was a middleman for several suspect Iraqi oil deals involving over 4 million barrels (640,000 m3) of oil.
Long time Clinton supporters and several Democratic leaders were critical of the pardon, with former President Jimmy Carter saying it was “disgraceful.”
Wyss did not want to comment on the arrest of Ali Sadr in the US last month on charges of money-laundering and evading US sanctions.
The financing for Pilatus Bank in Malta came, at least in part, from Swiss Perse Finance registered in Zug, an affluent municipality in Switzerland, sources have confirmed.
Financial Times reported on Thursday that between April 2011 and November 2013 about 15 payments worth about $115m were made by the PDVSA, the State-owned Venezuelan oil company, to Stratus International Contracting and Clarity Trade and Finance.
The dollar payments were sent to bank accounts Stratus and Clarity Trade and Finance held at banks including Zurich-based Hyposwiss Private Bank Ltd and cleared through US banks including JP Morgan. Other banks were also used.
Most of the funds received into the bank accounts of Clarity and Stratus were then transferred to a company in the British Virgin Islands incorporated by Sadr and others. US prosecutors said the ultimate beneficiary of the payments were Iranian individuals and entities, according to the Financial Times.
Pilatus Bank was subject to an investigation by Malta’s anti-money laundering agency, the FIAU, which concluded that the bank showed a “glaring, possibly deliberate disregard” for money-laundering controls.
Pilatus and Perse are now in liquidation, while Clarity Trade has been struck off according to the Swiss company register.
Investigations in Malta and Switzerland have cemented links between Pilatus Bank and Henley and Partners group.
The group has three divisions, operating via more than 20 offices worldwide: Henley & Partners, which focuses on residence/citizenship planning and government advisory; Henley Estates, which focuses on high-end real-estate for private clients; and Henley Trust, which provides fiduciary and tax planning services for private clients and family owned businesses.
Ali Sadr received a banking license for the Pilatus Bank in January 2014, while Henley and Partners also received approval for Malta’s cash for passport programme in the same month.
Ali Sadr used St Kitts and Nevis passports acquired through Henley and Partners to incorporate two companies — Stratus International Contracting in Turkey, and Clarity Trade and Finance in Switzerland.
Henley and Partners chairman Christian Kälin confirmed that he has known Ali Sadr for several years, in a hearing with MEPs investigating the rule of law in Malta. Ali Sadr had attended the 20th anniversary of Kälin and his wife in Switzerland, according to Caruana Galizia, who faced a SLAPP lawsuit from Henley and Partners with the consent of the Maltese government.
Emails between Kalin and Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his chief of staff Keith Schembri as well as Justice and Culture Minister Owen Bonnici showed the firm sought and received approval to initiate a financially crippling lawsuit against the journalist assassinated on 16 October.
Note: Henley and Partners have denied the assertions made in this article.