Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife Michelle and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri travelled to Venice together in 2015 to attend the wedding of Ali Sadr Hasheminejad – the owner and chairman of Pilatus Bank, who was arrested in the United States this week.
The Times of Malta reported today that Schembri was one of a few Maltese guests who attended Ali Sadr’s small wedding three years ago, prompting former PN MP and former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil to ask Prime Minister Joseph Muscat whether he too had attended this wedding.
A spokesperson for Muscat then told MaltaToday that the Prime Minister and his wife did indeed attend Ali Sadr’s wedding, “just as they attend dozens of other weddings”. Strangely, Muscat’s spokesperson said he had given the Times this same response but the newspaper didn’t publish it.
He added that the Muscats combined the wedding with a personal holiday in Italy – probably referring to a trip to Tuscany in September 2015 during which Joseph Muscat met up with then Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. This holiday took place a month after Pilatus Bank received a banking license from the Malta Financial Services Authority.
Pilatus Bank owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested in the United States last week
Also present at Ali Sadr’s wedding was Juanita Bencini, a consultant at KPMG – the auditors of Pilatus Bank. Bencini is President of the Institute of the Financial Services Practitioners and chairs the IFSP’s Prevention of Money Laundering And Funding Of Terrorism committee. She is also board member of the government’s finance promotional arm FinanceMalta and chairs the anti-money laundering committee of the Malta Institute of Accountants.
She was accompanied to the wedding by her husband Austin Bencini, who sits on the board of directors of Allied Newspapers – which owns The Times of Malta.
So @SimonBusuttil was so right, after all. #Malta Govt is a den of thieves. A crime syndicate. And @edward_scicluna had the gall 2 say that FIAU reports were written 2b leaked @DavidCasaMEP. @AnaGomesMEP @EPP @occupyjusticema @mcaruanagalizia @pcaruanagalizia https://t.co/QVcVutbbbd
— Jason Azzopardi (@AzzopardiJason) March 25, 2018
#Malta Prime Minister admits that he, his wife & his Chief of Staff travelled to Italy to attend wedding of #PilatusBank owner – who was granted a licence to run a bank in Malta by Muscat’s administration & who is now facing 125 years in a US jail.
— Roberta Metsola MEP (@RobertaMetsola) March 25, 2018
Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi said the news proves the Maltese government is “a den of thieves”, while PN MEP Roberta Metsola claimed that “the walls are closing in”.
Financial consultant George Mangion suggested that Juanita Bencini’s closeness with Ali Sadr could have been the real reason why the Malta Financial Services Authority had closed a blind eye on Pilatus Bank.
Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested in Virginia this week on charges of money laundering and illegally funnelling over $115 million from Venezuela to Iranian-controlled companies via US and Swiss banks back in 2006. According to the indictment by the US Department of Justice, Sadr made use of a St Kitts and Nevis passport and set up a network of companies in Switzerland, Turkey and the British Virgin Islands to hide the involvement of Iran in the transactions and therefore evade US sanctions on his home country.
The MFSA reacted by freezing Pialtus Bank’s assets and ordering the removal of Ali Sadr as the bank’s director.
Pilatus Bank hit the headlines last year when assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote that Michelle Muscat owns the secret Panama company Egrant – a story denounced by Joseph Muscat as “the biggest lie in Malta’s political history”.
According to the report, the mysterious Egrant declaration of trust was retrieved by Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova from a safe which the bank had kept in its kitchen, away from the glance of CCTV cameras. According to Caruana Galizia’s original report, the safe also contained documents pertaining to the bank’s Russian clients and Maltese PEPs, including John Dalli and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri. Schembri’s Pilatus Bank account was confirmed by a leaked report by the FIAU, while Dalli later confirmed he used to have an account too but that this was closed due to inactivity.