Left: Michelle Muscat, Right: Michelle Buttigieg
The Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat has denied that her close friend and former jewellery business partner Michelle Buttigieg has had anything to do with an alleged large Pilatus Bank transfer which is currently being investigated by the magistrate tasked with the Egrant inquiry.
A spokesperson for Michelle Muscat denied with Lovin Malta that such a transaction ever took place, and said Buttigieg testified as such to magistrate Aaron Bugeja – who has been investigating whether Muscat owns the offshore Panama company Egrant since April last year.
Assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote last year that Pilatus Bank had received instructions in March 2016 to open a bank account for its chairman’s sister Negarin Sadr and immediately credit it with a $1 million loan for her London-based fashion business.
Pilatus Bank was then reportedly instructed to transfer $400,000 from this loan to a bank account held by “a Maltese woman who lives in New York and has a jewellery business called Buttardi”. This was a reference to Michelle Buttigieg, who works in New York as a representative for the Malta Tourism Authority and who had set up a retail jewellery business with Michelle Muscat back in 2003.
Fashion designer Negarin Sadr, sister of Pilatus Bank’s chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad
Reports Michelle Buttigieg received a large payment appears to tally with a confirmation by JP Morgan Chase Bank to the New York public registry on 13 April 2016. On that date, the bank confirmed that Buttigieg had fully paid off a mortgage she had been given in 2015 to purchase her Manhattan apartment for $750,000.
MaltaToday recently reported that Aaron Bugeja has requested forensic IT assistance in the UK to ascertain whether this transaction took place or not. A similar request made nine months ago to US authorities did not produce any conclusive results.
Now Michelle Muscat has confirmed with Lovin Malta that Michelle Buttigieg had testified to Bugeja that this $400,000 transfer to her account never took place at all.
“Ms Buttigieg gave evidence in front of the inquiring magistrate and denies any money being transferred to her account, a fact she made amply clear in the testimony she gave to the inquiring magistrate,” a spokesperson for Muscat said.
Michelle Muscat also said she has had no involvement whatsoever in Buttardi since 2013, despite Buttardi’s website still listing her as the contact person for its Europe sales office.
Repeated attempts to contact Buttigieg directly failed, and an email to her Buttardi account was sent back with a message that her mail folder is full – indicating that Buttardi hasn’t been functioning for a while.
Zoominfo recently changed its data on Buttardi
Questions about Buttardi’s operations were raised last week by journalist-blogger Manuel Delia, who reproduced a search result for the business on US database marketing company Zoominfo. The search indicated that Buttardi employs twelve people and generates annual revenues of up to $2.4 million, which seemed suspicious considering the cheap price of Buttardi jewellery and its non-functioning website.
Yet the Zoominfo profile for Buttardi has changed dramatically, and is now only showing an annual revenue of $3,000 and a single employee, ostensibly Michelle Buttigieg. A spokesperson for Zoominfo confirmed with Lovin Malta that the information on its website was changed following a request from Buttardi, and that the original information had been sourced from “somewhere on the internet”.
“It’s very possible that the information could have come from an incorrect source or that it was paired with the wrong company,” the spokesperson said.
At least three other US business listing websites – Manta, LocalData.US and BusinesssDatabase.US – still show that Buttardi’s annual revenue is between $1 to $2.5 million and that it employs between one and four people.