Pilatus

Top officials from the disgraced shuttered Pilatus Bank are being charged in court with money laundering offences this afternoon, a police statement has confirmed.

In a statement, law enforcement officials said charges would be brought against “a local bank” and a 41-year old Sliema resident, widely understood to be Pilatus and its former head of legal, Claude-Ann Sant Fournier.

The case began at 1pm and the former executive is present along with a representative for the bank, police and a group of lawyers.

Prosecuting Inspector Pauline Bonnello explained that Ms Sant Fournier was arrested in April this year, but granted police bail. She was interrogated multiple times but exercised her right to silence on all occasions, she said.

The executive was the bank’s designated Money Laundering Reporting Officer, as well as a director, and was tasked with ensuring that offences did not take place.

Aside from Ms Sant Fournier, PwC partner Fabio Axisa has also been arraigned, as a representative of Pilatus Bank.

This means that instead of facing personal charges, he is being charged as the competent person appointed by the MFSA to represent the bank.

The arraignment comes as the defunct bank’s legal issues come to a head once more, with a long-awaited, delayed magisterial inquiry into it finally having reached its conclusion.

Earlier this week, it was handed a record €4.9 million fine by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU).

The prosecutions come five years after allegations of suspected money laundering activity at the bank were first raised by slain investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In a subsequent investigation, the FIAU and officials in Malta’s Government gave the bank a clean bill of health.

However, the investigation completed this week, which begun in 2018 following a reform of the FIAU’s procedures, uncovered a “serious and systematic failure” of the bank to follow anti-money laundering laws.

The Authority cited that of particular concern was the bank’s “lax approach towards both its due diligence and enhanced due diligence obligations”.

In light of the findings, the Government has faced questions over its retaining of some of the individuals involved in allowing the bank’s operations to continue.

On Wednesday, facing questions from journalists at an unrelated press conference, Prime Minister Robert Abela was asked to comment on the fact that the Finance Minister when Pilatus passed its FIAU test, Edward Scicluna, remains in a position of major responsibility, as Governor of the Central Bank of Malta.

He responded that the recent charges against the bank were proof of the rigour of the country’s regulatory bodies.

In 2018 the bank’s licence was stripped by the European Central Bank, following the arrest of its founder and chairman, Ali Sadr in the US. He was subsequently found not guilty of the money-laundering charges leveraged against him after disclosure failures by US prosecutors.

This suspension and the Maltese authorities’ subsequent takeover of the bank is itself subject to an international dispute currently, with lawyers from Pilatus Bank’s parent company Alpene Ltd alleging a network of “corrupt Government officials” are draining the bank of its assets.

Legal filings claim that since the bank was “wrongfully” closed by regulators it has been stripped of its assets to the benefit of “Maltese officials, individuals and businesses”.

These allegations are centred around a suggestion of corruption in the MFSA’s choice of liquidation lawyers.

Issues relating to Malta’s ability and willingness to pursue money laundering cases have reached the forefront of public attention in recent months with the country’s shock greylisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The Government has repeatedly insisted that recent reforms were effective in improving the strength of the country’s regulatory bodies, but acknowledged that proof now needs to be provided of this effectiveness.

Featured Image:

Pilatus Bank/ Facebook

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