Updated 2.30pm with video

Police and Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg decided not to prosecute top Pilatus Bank officials and later tried to find reasons to justify why they would not charge them, according to a 700-page book published on Saturday.

In the book Pilatus: A laundromat bank in Europe, author and Repubblika president Robert Aquilina published a series of emails which, he said, shows how three police inspectors discussed how they needed “points” to justify the decision by the Attorney General not to prosecute Pilatus Bank’s former risk manager Antoniella Gauci and operations supervisor Mehmet Tasli despite a magisterial inquiry recommending money-laundering charges against them.

"This book is an act of justice and determination and I have no doubt that together, we will get there," Aquilina said at the book launch on Saturday morning.

The launch was held before a packed house at the Aula Magna at the Valletta University campus.

The launch was held before a packed house at the Aula Magna at the Valletta University campus. PHOTO: Chris Sant Fournier.The launch was held before a packed house at the Aula Magna at the Valletta University campus. PHOTO: Chris Sant Fournier.

More than two-thirds of the book contains documentation presented in court during court proceedings related to the bank as well as Repubblika’s case challenging the state officials for not acting on the recommendation of a magisterial inquiry to prosecute a number of Pilatus Bank officials.

The bank was shuttered in 2018 after it was accused of money laundering breaches, sparking political scandal. 

Video: Mark Laurence Zammit

Aquilina chose to defy a court ban to make the evidence public but he said it was in the best interest of justice and the people.

"During the process of publication, people would tell me, 'Do you know you're breaking the law?' But I would reply that my utmost measure is not the law, but justice," he said, triggering a long applause and a standing ovation amid cries of "grande Robert".

The book was launched to a packed hall in Valletta. Photo: Chris Sant FournierThe book was launched to a packed hall in Valletta. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Author calls for public support

He said he does not imagine the authorities will let his defiance slide but asked for the public's support in whatever might happen.

He explained how the emails detail how a very 'rare and extraordinary' legal practice known as a nolle prosequi was granted to the two Pilatus Bank officials, effectively making them immune from justice.

"The police and the AG first decided they would not prosecute the officials, and then exchanged emails to try to find reasons why they would not charge them," Aquilina said.

"It should have been the other way round. First, they should have seen the evidence and determined whether there were reasons for their prosecution. And the magistrate had already found those reasons."

Pilatus Bank was only intended to be a washing machine for money laundering, Aquilina said.

Segments of the institutions did their utmost to do their job but most of them were set on hiding the truth and preventing criminals from facing justice, he said.

What about Egrant?

In the book, Aquilina also published a 400-page report by US management consultancy experts Duff & Phelps.

The report shows the experts had recommended further investigative steps be taken to get to the bottom of claims surrounding secret company Egrant.

The experts also recommended that Pilatus whistleblower Maria Efimova be interviewed by investigators about her claims on the alleged Egrant account and transactions.

"I felt it was in the public interest to make this report available to the people," Aquilina said, as the audience applauded.

"I am publishing it in its entirety for the sake of transparency and so that nobody doubts that I may be cherry-picking facts. And I'm also publishing it because I feel the people have already paid for it, because this magisterial inquiry cost the people €7 million."

The book contains dozens of emails. Photo: Chris Sant FournierThe book contains dozens of emails. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The shuttered bank's recent history

Pilatus Bank was closed when its licence was stripped by the European Central Bank in November 2018, following the arrest of its founder and chairman, Ali Sadr in the US.

Sadr has since been released after being found not guilty of money-laundering charges due to disclosure failures by the prosecution.

That same year, the European Banking Authority criticised the FIAU’s failure to impose sanctions on the bank, despite its misgivings about its anti-money laundering controls.

A reform of the FIAU’s procedures ensued and a second review of the bank uncovered a “serious and systemic failure” to follow anti-money laundering laws. 

The FIAU issued the bank with the maximum fine the agency can impose after it found that the bank had exposed itself and the Maltese jurisdiction to “egregious” money-laundering risks that were not mitigated in any manner. 

This included onboarding politically appointed customers, high net worth customers and companies dealing in high-risk jurisdictions and which were projecting to transact millions of euros annually. 

Times of Malta previously revealed, as part of the Daphne Project, how a network of over 50 companies and trusts secretly owned by Azerbaijan’s ruling elite used accounts at Pilatus Bank to move millions around Europe.

An inquiry into the bank’s operations was opened days before the order to shutter the bank was handed down in 2018. The inquiry has since concluded and charges in connection with the bank’s operations are set to be issued. 

Former prime minister Joseph Muscat and top aide Keith Schembri were both revealed to have attended Sadr’s wedding in Italy.

Yorgen Fenech, the man behind suspected kickbacks vehicle 17 Black and who is accused of conspiring to murder Caruana Galizia in 2017, was also invited to the 2015 celebration.

'Abela government provided tools to the institutions'

In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said the authorities worked independently and autonomously, taking decisions in accordance with the law.

"Additionally, not only did the government, led by Robert Abela provide institutions with tools to be able to carry out their work, but it also provided citizens with tools to contest such decisions," it said.

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