More than a year after Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa announced that the police force was close to resolving “a big case” that was understood to refer to Pilatus Bank, no action has been taken.
On 6 August 2020, the newly-installed police commissioner, the replacement of his disgraced predecessor Lawrence Cutajar, had told the media that police were “close to resolving a big case, one which people thought we were doing nothing about”.
While the commissioner had not mentioned the now-defunct Pilatus Bank, The Times of Malta had claimed that Gafa’ was referring to Pilatus Bank following confirmation from other sources. Since Gafa’s promises of prosecutions, no major updates have been revealed and no prosecutions have actually been put forward.
In December 2020, two years after Malta’s Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit seized the bank’s data, The Times had again reported the police being close to prosecutions relating to Pilatus, but nothing has been mentioned in the public domain since then.
One of the key criticisms levelled at Malta by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international money laundering watchdog that placed Malta in its list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring earlier this year, was its weak financial intelligence, both in terms of effectiveness and prosecutions.
In 2017, murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia had alleged that former prime minister Joseph Muscat’s wife held a bank account at Pilatus via the offshore company known as Egrant, an account which had received $1 million from Azerbaijan’s corrupt ruling family.
The allegations led to a €7.5 million magisterial inquiry that was announced shortly before Muscat called a snap election that same year, an inquiry which did not manage to actually conclude who the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant was and had several details redacted from the published version.
Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was convicted on five counts, including bank fraud and breaching US sanctions on Iran last year. Yet a US court granted a motion for a new trial for the former Pilatus Bank reversing the Iranian banker’s earlier guilty conviction.
While Hasheminejad was being prosecuted for bank fraud and breaching US sanctions, local authorities never investigated him for money laundering through bank accounts held at Pilatus Bank, including the network of offshore companies being handled via Nexia BT accountant Brian Tonna on behalf of former prime minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.
To date, Tonna, Schembri, Muscat and former energy minister Konrad Mizzi, who had overseen the Electrogas project in his official capacity and had signed off on numerous contractual obligations benefiting, among others, Azerbaijan’s state oil company known as SOCAR, have not been prosecuted for their dealings at the defunct bank.
As for the bank itself, the European Central Bank had suspended its license in November 2018, essentially shutting it down just days after the magisterial inquiry had begun. To this day, no action against the bank, its founder or its clients has been taken by the Maltese authorities.