A lawyer assisting a former senior official at Pilatus Bank who is facing money laundering charges has questioned why third parties linked to the same alleged wrongdoing were still being “investigated” but had not been charged. 

The defence lawyer’s reaction was triggered by another long drawn-out sitting at the compilation of evidence against Claude-Ann Sant Fournier, former money laundering reporting officer at the now-shuttered Pilatus Bank.

Sant Fournier stands accused of aiding and abetting money laundering activities both in her personal capacity as well as in her former official role at the bank.

Charges were issued against her and Pilatus Bank following a years-long magisterial inquiry that is understood to have cost the state some €7.5 million.

With over 200 boxes of documentary evidence and hard disks piling up before the Magistrates’ Court, the defendant's lawyer poured cold water over the evidence gathered so far and the relevance of the testimonies put forward by the prosecution. 

'Irrelevant' testimony

“The accused protest today’s testimony, which is clearly irrelevant to the charges as issued, so much so that neither the dates nor the facts put forward are related to the charges,” said lawyer Stefano Filletti, as he minuted his arguments in the records of the case. 

Filletti’s reaction came about after a senior official at Deloitte Malta was summoned to testify on Monday morning about the process involved and correspondence exchanged with its UK counterpart when Pilatus Bank was seeking the services of the London-based firm.

More detailed verification was called for since the bank’s ultimate beneficial owner, Ali Sadr, was born in Iran which was targeted by sanctions.

Ali Sadr himself was a client of Deloitte New York.

A former tax manager at Deloitte also testified about how he had introduced Pilatus Bank to the firm, since he “knew” Ali Sadr.

Although he was copied in subsequent correspondence, he was not involved in the assignments undertaken by the firm. 

A number of officials from Deloitte Malta testified that the company deemed it ‘prudent’ to notify their foreign counterparts when allegations began to emerge in the public domain about the bank. 

Filletti said such testimonies about Deloitte’s “onboarding of clients” was “hardly relevant” to the charges at hand, namely money laundering by Pilatus and Sant Fournier.

“This has to be viewed in light of the fact that this case has been pending since last September at compilation stage, after an inquiry which had been ongoing for years. It’s not right for this case to be stultified when the life of the accused [Sant Fournier] has ground to a halt.”

When a person is prosecuted for money laundering, “no one employs you and no one wants to have any kind of business or commercial relationship” went on Filletti. 

Evidence piles up, but what about proof? 

With over 200 boxes of evidence in the case, if the proof was not to be found in that evidence, “then we have a serious problem with the way investigations are being conducted,” argued the lawyer. 

According to the charges, Sant Fournier allegedly committed acts of money laundering “with others,” but so far, not only has this not been proved but copious reference has been made to a “third party employee whom the prosecution chose not to prosecute,” the lawyer observed. 

And taking a leaf out of a statement made by the Police Commissioner in a reply to a challenge application filed by a “third party”[Repubblika], Filletti pointed out that the Commissioner said that police were duty-bound to continue to investigate when they had “new evidence.”

Since it was being claimed that the magisterial inquiry had identified other third parties to face prosecution over their involvement at Pilatus bank, why were charges only pressed against Sant Fournier, the lawyer asked. 

Since the challenge filed by Repubblika was also relevant to this case, Filletti requested a copy of the relative documents to be produced in the proceedings against Pilatus and Sant Fournier. 

“Something so fundamental should have been produced by the prosecution,” he said.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech observed that since those documents formed part of separate proceedings, the court could not uphold the defence’s request. The defence would need to follow an alternative procedure to attain the documents.

However, she urged the prosecution to “please be relevant.”

“I hope that you are careful to note how questions [to witnesses] have a bearing upon these charges. The more [evidence] you pile on and on and on, the more difficult you make it to prove your case,” said Magistrate Frendo Dimech.

'Proceedings are being inordinately prolonged'

“Proceedings are being inordinately prolonged,” went on the court, addressing the AG lawyers and inspector handling the prosecution. 

Upon hearing that there were still some “months” to go, the court once again urged the prosecution to be careful in selecting only relevant testimonies, rather than produce evidence which is already compiled in the records of the inquiry. 

“To me today was a wasted day,” went the Magistrate’s final comment. “You cannot squeeze blood out of stone.”

The case continues.

AG lawyers Marthese Grech and Ramon Bonnett Sladden prosecuted. Lawyers Stefano Filletti and Kathleen Calleja Grima are counsel to Sant Fournier.Lawyer Stefan Camilleri is assisting Fabio Axisa, PWC partner appointed as competent person to represent Pilatus Bank. 

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