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Court Hits Pilatus Bank And Former Director With Financial Crimes Charges

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Pilatus Bank and its former director, Claude-Anne Sant Fournier, have been charged with a slew of financial crimes, with a magistrate granting Sant Fournier bail.

The charges are linked to a magisterial inquiry kickstarted against the bank in November 2018 following the arrest of the bank’s chairman Ali Sadr Hashinejad in the United States of America. The inquiry cost about €7.5 million. It was the inquiring magistrate who said that charges must be taken against Sant Fournier. 

Sant Fournier has been on police bail for a number of months. Police revealed that she stayed silent during interrogation, refusing to answer any questions.

She was the MLRO and director of the bank, which meant she was responsible for ensuring that the bank remained in line with anti-money laundering laws. Sant Fournier is no longer a director at the bank. 

Pilatus Bank and Sant Fournier both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Fabio Axisa is the physical representative of Pilatus Bank. He was appointed by MFSA to oversee the bank’s operations in May 2021. 

The court rejected the prosecution’s request to deny bail. Sant Fournier’s lawyers argued that she had been under police bail since April 2021 and did not abscond from the island, adding that there existed no real fears that she could tamper with evidence.

Sant Fournier must not approach the prosecution witnesses, nor commit another crime. She must sign a bail book three times a week and has been ordered to obey a curfew, as well as deposit her ID and passport in the acts of the case.

The prosecution demanded a freezing order against both the bank and Sant Fournier – with a special application submitted to ensure Pilatus bank pays its administrative fine. 

Lawyers for both Pilatus and Sant Fournier contested the freezing order. The court upheld the request with regards to Pilatus but did not for Sant Fournier. Instead, it said that the freezing order should remain in force temporarily. She will only be allowed €13,000 annually.

The bank was at the centre of corruption and money laundering claims against a number of high-ranking officials that formed part of former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s administration.

On 20th April 2017, assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed that the bank held an account for the Panama company Egrant, which she had claimed Muscat’s wife Michelle was the Ultimate Beneficial Owner (UBO).

Caruana Galizia had also claimed that former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri and other associates including former John Dalli held an account at the bank. The inquiry had shown that both men did in fact hold accounts at the bank.

Schembri’s account at the bank has been central to corruption and money laundering charges brought against them.

A magisterial inquiry into the allegation could not find any evidence linking Muscat to the company, though it did not determine who the company’s UBO was.  It did however uncover a dual filing system likely intended to withhold key documents from authorities.

The bank’s license was eventually withdrawn in October 2018 following the arrest in the United States of the bank’s chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad.

What do you think of the charges?

READ NEXT: Pilatus Bank And Official To Be Charged With Financial Crimes

Julian is the Editor at Lovin Malta with a particular interest in politics, the environment, social issues, and human interest stories.

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