A magistrate signed off on international arrest warrants for Pilatus Bank’s top brass, but the police failed to immediately act on them, Repubblika president Robert Aquilina said on Friday. 

Publishing excerpts from the money-laundering inquiry into the bank, Aquilina said the police’s failure to execute the warrants was tantamount to a “cover-up”. 

Bank chairman Ali Sadr, director Hamid Ghanbari and bank official Mehmet Tasli all had international arrest warrants signed off by the inquiring magistrate in February 2021. 

None of the officials were hauled to court when prosecutors charged the bank and its money-laundering reporting officer Claude-Ann Sant Fournier with financial crimes in September of that same year. 

The arrest warrant for Ali Sadr dated February 2021The arrest warrant for Ali Sadr dated February 2021

The international arrest warrants were only executed by the authorities earlier this year. 

Aquilina said the documents also proved that one of the subjects of the arrest warrant, Tasli, had been allowed to testify in a criminal case last year with both the police and Attorney General present, without any attempts to arrest him. 

Justice frustrated

Aquilina said the documents published on Friday clearly proved that while certain institutions are trying to ensure justice, others are frustrating it. 

The Repubblika president said the warrants approved by the inquiring magistrate had actually been requested by the police. 

“I cannot understand the delay in executing their own warrants,” Aquilina said. 

Aquilina said the fact that he had got his hands on the inquiry showed there were people within the institutions who recognised that justice was not being allowed to prevail. 

“Inquiries by their nature are secret. The fact that I got my hands on this shows there are people in the institutions who are angered, they are let down by the fact that the justice system isn't being allowed to work,” Aquilina said. 

In a symbolic gesture, Aquilina left a copy of the inquiry excerpts near the memorial to slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. 

Robert Aquilina lays a copy of the arrest warrants on a temporary memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia. Photo: Jonathan BorgRobert Aquilina lays a copy of the arrest warrants on a temporary memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Brandishing the documents, Aquilina said they proved Caruana Galizia was right in her assessment that Pilatus was set up for money-laundering.

Earlier in court, Aquilina presented a large batch of documents in evidence, explaining that these were copies from the magisterial inquiry into suspicious transactions at the now-defunct bank.

They included the international and European arrest warrants.

Crimes of money-laundering and criminal conspiracy carry a maximum punishment of 18 years imprisonment or a maximum fine of €2.5 million or both.

Five officials

Yet, fifteen months after the inquiry had been wrapped up, no criminal action had been taken against the five targeted officials, namely, Tasli, Sadr, Luis Felipe Rivera, director and company secretary, Hamidreza Ghambari, director and Antoniella Gauci, accounting, chief risk and acting anti-money laundering reporting officer at Pilatus Bank. 

Repubblika lawyer, Jason Azzopardi, informed the court, presided over by Mr Justice Christian Falzon Scerri, that Aquilina had obtained these documents “in the last hours” and they were being presented in evidence at this stage to enable the court to map the case forward. 

Aquilina also testified that one of the documents indicated that Tasli was residing in Austria. 

Attorney General lawyer Fiorella Fenech Vella, asked Aquilina, a notary, if he was a journalist. Aquilina explained that he regularly published opinion pieces both online and in newspapers.

However, he was recently informed, “more than once,” by high-ranking police officials, including Deputy Commissioner Alexandra Mamo, that they considered him “as a journalist.”

“I don’t know what makes a journalist,” he added. 

Asked how the documents came into his possession, Aquilina said he had promised to protect his sources and believes that the law protects him. 

Repubblika's Robert Aquilina said he will protect his sources. Photo: Jonathan BorgRepubblika's Robert Aquilina said he will protect his sources. Photo: Jonathan Borg

By means of this civil action, Repubblika are calling upon the First Hall, Civil Court to strike down the Attorney General’s decision not to prosecute the five Pilatus officials as well as former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.

That decision was “null, invalid and ineffective” since it was not based on legal considerations or reasons, Repubblika are arguing.

The Attorney General’s decision effectively ran counter to the orders of the magistrate who handled the Pilatus inquiry.

Consequently, Repubblika is requesting the court to send the case back to the Attorney General to review her decision and issue criminal charges against all six individuals. 

The case was adjourned to November.

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