A judicial protest has been filed this morning by NGO Repubblika on Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg’s failure to follow up on the orders of the magisterial inquiry into the now-defunct Pilatus Bank – a €7 million inquiry that called for more prosecutions.
The NGO said that based on information it has obtained on the conclusions of the Pilatus Bank inquiry, there is clear documentation which shows that former Pilatus Bank owner and director Ali Sadr Hasheminejad and disgraced former chief of staff to the prime minister Keith Schembri engaged in trading in influence.
“Repubblika also knows for a fact that this magisterial inquiry, concluded in 2021, had ordered the Police Commissioner and the Attorney General to issue criminal charges in connection with the facts that were forensically corroborated and committed by the persons outlined above,” according to the judicial protest filed by Repubblika.
During a press conference announcing the judicial protest on Tuesday, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina said that between 21 and 24 June he was “personally, definitely, categorically informed” of “irrefutable evidence in the conclusions of the magisterial inquiry” regarding the operations of Pilatus Bank.
Aquilina said the information was obtained through his own “privileged sources”, referring to information gleaned from “investigative journalism” as well as information obtained through his profession. In its opening arguments for the judicial protest prepared by former Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi, Repubblika argued that the Attorney General’s failure to follow up on the conclusions drawn in the magisterial inquiry was “unreasonable” and “in bad faith”.
Pilatus Bank’s doors were permanently shut down by the European Central Bank in 2018. The magisterial inquiry into the bank’s operations had cost taxpayers more than €7.5 million and amounted to over 500,000 pages of information.
In its judicial protest, Repubblika referred to the inquiring magistrate ordering the Attorney General to initiate proceedings with the intent of reopening a separate magisterial inquiry into Egrant, an offshore company which Pilatus Bank whistleblower Maria Efimova had alleged was owned by the wife of disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
The conclusions of the Pilatus Bank inquiry had referred to the need to reopen an investigation into an allegation that a $1.017 million payment to Egrant through Pilatus Bank had been executed using a “ parallel accounting system” used for money laundering activities.
“Repubblika also knows that, in the first part of 2021, International Arrest Warrants should have been issued against the indicated persons, an order from the magisterial inquiry which was not executed,” the judicial protest adds.
By way of rectifying the lack of action from the office of the Attorney General as well as Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa’, Repubblika is seeking to pressure both to arraign and prosecute five individuals previously linked to Pilatus Bank. Separately, the NGO has already instituted proceedings against the police commissioner on similar grounds, arguing that Gafa’ “has no credibility left”.
In a press conference held on 22 June, Gafa’ promised to publish conclusions about an internal investigation into the police force’s bungling of the arrest of former Malta Gaming Authority employee Iosif Galea.
While claiming that the investigation is entirely independent, Gafa’ denied all accusations of incompetence in relation to the police’s handling of Galea’s case, who was allowed to travel freely in spite of a one-year old European Arrest Warrant.
So far, the Attorney General and the police have only arraigned and charged two individuals: former money laundering reporting officer Claude Ann Sant Fournier, and Pilatus Bank itself as an institution.
On Monday, magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech rapped the office of the Attorney General for presenting over 200 boxes of evidence in the case against Sant Fournier, warning the office to not bury its own evidence since proceedings so far had shown that the evidence was not directly relevant to the charges.
Repubblika is seeking further charges against former Pilatus Bank executives Mehmet Tasli (operations supervisor), Rivera Luis Felipe (director, company secretary), Ali Sadr Hasheminejad (owner, director), Ghambari Hamidreza (director) and Antoniella Gauci (accounting officer, chief risk officer, acting money laundering reporting officer).
The criminal charges Repubblika is pushing for amount to active participation and complicity in hiding and laundering money derived from criminal activity, submitting false and deceptive information to authorities and conspiring to commit criminal acts which are subject to imprisonment.