Nearly €11 billion in transactions that flowed through the Malta-based Satabank were flagged as suspicious in 2020, auditors EY have said. 

However, more than 800 customers at the now-shuttered bank who were originally flagged by the auditors for further investigation, were eventually given access to their funds after the authorities decided not to press charges. 

An operations report tabled in Parliament on behalf of Finance Minister Clyde Caruana on Wednesday sheds light on the extent of suspected financial foul play discovered at the St Julian’s bank.  

Satabank was effectively shuttered by authorities in 2018 after a joint FIAU and MFSA inspection flagged serious deficiencies in the bank’s anti-money laundering controls.  

This had led regulators to come down hard on the bank.

All 12,000 of Satabank’s accounts were effectively frozen by the Malta Financial Services Authority in 2019, with EY (formerly Ernst and Young) appointed to administer the bank’s assets in “the best interests of depositors”.

Police and financial regulators then moved in to comb through suspicious transactions with potential links to fuel smuggling, drug trafficking and trade with sanctioned countries. 

They investigated billions of euros in suspicious transactions through Satabank. The bank was slapped with a €3.7 million fine by the FIAU which was eventually slashed to €851,000

The bank eventually had its banking licence revoked

At the time, depositors had complained of being left in the dark for months, as they had no access to their funds.   

3,971 clean clients but nearly 800 suspicious transactions

By the end of October 2020, EY says it had released some €269 million to 3,971 ‘clean’ customers. 

EY said it had filed 778 so-called Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) against 1,385 of the bank’s customers which were suspected of potential money laundering or other financial crimes. 

The balance associated with the customers for which STRs were filed amounted to more than €220 million. 

Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.Photo: Chris Sant Fournier.

EY said the transactions under suspicion, which include debits and credits, amounted to some €10.9 billion. 

Ultimately €159.6 million was released to 847 customers for which STRs had originally been filed.

Last year Times of Malta reported how some 25 Satabank clients initially suspected of criminal activity had walked away from the bank with €12.1 million after the police decided not to prosecute them.

Meanwhile, the report says that EY had restricted access to 63 of the bank's customers on the back of investigation and attachment orders issued by the Maltese Courts.

The contentious cash associated with these customers amounts to just shy of €45 million and the transactions are valued at €1.08 billion. 

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