Left: Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva; Right: Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad
The Daphne Project has confirmed that a Dubai company co-owned by the two daughters of Azerbaijan’s ruler Ilham Aliyev did indeed hold an account at Pilatus Bank.
According to assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the account owned by Sahra FZCO was owned by Aliyev’s daughter Leyla Aliyeva. In one of her most famous stories, Caruana Galizia wrote that the Aliyevs had used this company’s Pilatus Bank account to transfer several biweekly payments of $100,000 and one huge transaction of $1.017 million to a Dubai bank account owned by the secret Panama company Egrant – which she said belongs to the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat.
In an interview with Lovin Malta last week, whistleblower Maria Efimova described the chaos that had ensued at Pilatus Bank once the $1.017 million payment was blocked by one of the Maltese bank’s US correspondent banks.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has denounced the story as the “biggest lie in Malta’s political history”, but The Guardian – one of the newspapers involved in the Daphne Project – has confirmed that at least part of the story is true.
The investigation found that the Aliyevs are the alleged beneficiaries of several anonymous companies that have invested heavily in property, hotels and businesses in Europe.
Azeri Minister For Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov also has a Pilatus Bank account
Notably, Aliyev’s daughters own a 51% stake in Azeri business conglomerate Gilan Holding, which was founded by Azerbaijan’s Minister For Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov – who himself has a Pilatus Bank account.
An audit of a bank owned by Gilan declared in 2013 that the group was owned by two Dubai companies – Sahra FZCO with a 51% stake and Shams Al Sahra FZCO with a 49% stake. Although Heydarov and his brother were named as joint owners of both these companies, two sources with knowledge of Pilatus transactions have confirmed with The Guardian that the owners of Sahra FZCO were declared to the bank as Leyla and Arzu Aliyeva.
The Aliyeva sisters did not respond to The Guardian’s request for comment.
The Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA) last month froze Pilatus Bank’s assets after the bank’s owner Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad was arrested in the United States and charged with money laundering and evading US sanctions.