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If Pilatus Banks winds down all evidence will be lost, Efimova warns

Russian whistleblower says key political figures are so deeply involved in corruption and money laundering that if they make a false move the consequences will reach beyond Malta.

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

Maria Efimova has warned that if Pilatus Bank is closed down, all evidence, “if there is any left,” will be lost and this could bring all investigations and inquiries involving the bank to a halt.

The Russian whistleblower added that key political figures in Malta are so deeply involved in corruption and money laundering that if they make a false move the consequences will be felt beyond Malta’s shores.

Speaking to The Shift News, the Pilatus Bank whistleblower said that if the bank closes down, as the lawyers of the bank’s owner Ali Sadr told a US court this week, “I wonder if investigations will continue into the bank’s operations.”

This move, she said, would “halt all investigations and freeze the inquiries” launched following the explosive revelations on the bank and its operations made by murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia just over a year ago. They are the subject of a criminal magisterial inquiry.

Ali Sadr was arrested in the US were he is being accused of participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions and funnelling more than $115 million paid under a Venezuelan construction contract through the American financial system.

Although no notice of liquidation has yet been filed with the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), Ali Sadr’s lawyers told a US court this week that Pilatus Bank is in the process of winding down.

His lawyers said that the bank “had its assets seized and is in the process of winding down as a direct result of the allegations in this case.”

The MFSA however said the bank cannot do this without its approval since it is barred from liquidating, disposing, transferring or dealing with its clients’ assets and monies.

Despite this, the bank transferred over half the funds it held since Caruana Galizia started her revelations on its operations, but it is not clear where the amounts went.

“It feels funny that Ali Sadr is willing to close the bank down now,” Efimova said, adding that it looks like Ali Sadr had planned this all along.

Last year, Caruana Galizia published documents showing the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat, was the owner of Panama company Egrant that held a bank account at Pilatus and received $1 million from Azerbaijan. Efimova was one of the journalist’s sources.

The bank has also been linked to money laundering allegations involving the prime minister’s chief of staff, Keith Schembri, who has admitted to having an account at the bank, as did tourism minister Konrad Mizzi. Both have denied the claims but a number of magisterial inquiries are ongoing.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who attended Ali Sadr’s wedding in Italy in 2015,  has refused to take any action against Schembri and Mizzi, and Efimova said that it is very likely that the Maltese government will survive the onslaught of international criticism and scrutiny unless the EU and other international institutions take action.

“They are so deeply involved that if they do anything outside the box it will create a domino effect and the consequences will affect other countries beyond Malta,” she said on the Labour administration.

Pilatus Bank is at the centre of a number of scandals involving Maltese and Azerbaijani political figures and this week it was revealed that members of Azerbaijan’s ruling elite have used Pilatus Bank to move millions into Europe and invest in a variety of businesses across the continent.

According to the Daphne Project, a network of up to 50 companies, holding some 60 accounts and a majority of the bank’s €250 million deposits, were opened for the children of senior political figures in Azerbaijan that have been used to invest in property, hotels and businesses in Europe.

The Russian national had also revealed that the bank’s customers included Leyla Aliyeva and Maltese politicians. The claims surfaced at a time when Azerbaijan was completing a major investment in the Maltese energy sector through a share in a power station.

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