7 Unanswered Questions After MEPs’ Investigation Into Malta’s Rule Of Law
Are police investigating the Panama Papers and did someone else inform Daphne Caruana Galizia about Egrant?
A special delegation of MEPs have published a hard-hitting report on the state of the rule of law in Malta, following a fact-finding visit to the island late last year during which they met with several key players. However, while the report leaves little to the imagination concerning the MEPs’ opinions on Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, the investigation ultimately left more questions than answers.
1. Are the police investigating the Panama Papers?
The police have come under a lot of flak for failing to investigate and prosecute Mizzi and Schembri in the wake of the Panama Papers scandal. However, police commissioner Laurence Cutajar told MEPs there are investigations in connection with the Panama Papers underway and promised to provide them more information in due course. The nature of these investigations is unknown, but could the police have started investigating Mizzi and Schembri?
2. Who are Pilatus Bank’s Azeri clients?
Questions related to the Azeri clients of Ta’ Xbiex-based Pilatus bank keep popping up throughout the report. The MFSA confirmed it is investigating the bank and has information in hand about the names of the bank’s clients and the number of deposits, details it cannot disclose due to client sensitivity. Pilatus’ CEO Hamidreza Ghanbari then pledged to send MEPs information about the bank’s proportion of Azeri clients as well as the proportion of their clients being PEPs in writing - information that has already been provided to the FIAU and MFSA along with an electronic audit track.
Interestingly, Ghanbari said that while Pilatus had not filed a single suspicious transaction report to the authorities in 2016, it filed four or five in 2017 - most related to one client. Who was that client?
Also, Pilatus employee turned whistleblower Maria Efimova told MEPs the bank is operating on the basis of the deposits of two or three Azerbaijani clients. Which clients was she referring to?
3. What was that mysterious flight to Azerbaijan?
On the same night Caruana Galizia famously broke the Egrant story last year, a private plane departed from Luqa to Baku - feeling suspicion that it was carrying the contents of a suitcase which Pilatus chairman Seyed Ali Sedr Hasheminejad had carried out of the bank that same night.
The bank’s representatives told MEPs Hasheminejad had not left for Baku but had indeed been in Malta the next day for a board meeting. They explained he only had his personal belongings in the suitcase, and left the building by the backdoor was because there was a lot of “agitation” as a result of the Egrant report.
4. Does John Dalli have a Pilatus Bank account?
MEPs asked the FIAU whether John Dalli had a Pilatus Bank account, as reported by Daphne Caruana Galizia, and whether the account had received money via a Dubai company called 17 Black, which was set up by the Maltese agent for the tanker used to supply LNG to the Delimara power station. According to an unfinished FIAU report, 17 Black had transferred money to Mizzi’s and Schembri’s two Panama companies. However, the FIAU was unable to confirm this story or even whether Dalli had a Pilatus Bank account.
5. Who else will be charged in fraud case against John Dalli’s daughters?
Former EU Commissioner John Dalli’s two daughters, along with four other people, were recently charged with laundering money scheme through a Ponzi scheme which had scammed evangelical Christians of millions of dollars. Cutajar indicated to MEPs that police investigations into the case would soon lead to further charges against other (unspecified) people.
6. Were police harassed about Efimova?
Former FIAU official Jonathan Ferris
Former police inspector and FIAU official Jonathan Ferris told MEPs he had received a phonecall from ex police collegaues, who were “harassed” by the police and the Attorney General with regards investigation Ferris had led on Maria Efimova following fraud charges filed by Pilatus Bank.
“I was asked to re-testify on the case,” Ferris said. “Efimova had reported to the police, and on 2nd May I told the police I had nothing new to report.”
7. Efimova: Not Caruana Galizia’s original source?
A lot has been made about Efimova’s statement to MEPs that she was “not the original source” who had provided information on Egrant to Caruana Galizia. Joseph Muscat took it as a denial from Efimova that she was a source, but another explanation could be that Caruana Galizia had also received information about Egrant from a third party.