Last Updated on Saturday, 2 October, 2021 at 4:10 pm by Andre Camilleri
The magistrate compiling evidence against a former official at Pilatus Bank has declared that there is sufficient prima facie evidence to proceed with an indictment on money laundering charges.
Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech gave the ruling earlier this afternoon as the case against Claude Anne Sant Fournier continued. Sant Fournier, who was previously money laundering reporting officer (MLRO) at the bank, stands charged, together with the bank itself, with money laundering.
Pilatus and Sant Fournier were jointly charged, on 2 September, with breaching the Money Laundering Act in 2018 and with committing similar offences in previous years. The court had issued a freezing order against the bank and a temporary order against Sant Fournier upon arraignment.
In August, the bank was fined nearly €5 million by Malta’s money laundering watchdog, the FIAU, for “very serious and systemic” failures in the bank’s obligation to prevent financial crime. The fine came after a three year investigation into the bank’s clients and procedures.
In a previous sitting, the court heard how Sant Fournier repeatedly made unexplained “administrative mistakes” which led investigators to believe that she was assisting and abetting the laundering of money.
Sant Fournier’s defence counsel argued that the prosecution had stated that the former MLRO had made no financial gain from the laundering and questioned why she was also being charged in her personal capacity.
Pilatus Bank was shuttered in November 2018 when the European Central Bank revoked its license two years after it was first implicated in alleged money laundering breaches.
The bank came into the spotlight just before the 2017 general election, when Daphne Caruana Galizia alleged that the former prime minister’s wife Michelle Muscat owned the Panama company Egrant, which had a bank account at Pilatus.
A magisterial inquiry into the allegations found no such account tied to Egrant or Michelle Muscat and dismissed the claims.
The bank’s owner, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, an Iranian national, was eventually arrested in the US and charged with breaching sanctions against Venezuela. The case against Hasheminejad was eventually abandoned.
Prosecutors Cinzia Azzopardi Alamango and Marthese Grech are appearing for the office of the Attorney General, Inspectors Claire Borg and Pauline Bonello are prosecuting.
Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Calleja Grima are defence counsel.