Lawyers for former Pilatus Bank official Claude-Ann Sant Fournier insisted in court on Wednesday that top officials of the bank must be called to testify.

The call was made in yet another sitting where Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech criticised prosecutors for their handling of the case. 

Sant Fournier, a former money laundering reporting officer, stands accused of  money laundering.

A week ago the magistrate criticised the prosecutors for wasting time and undermining the judicial process when a session purposely allocated for the prosecution to produce relevant witnesses fizzled out into a minutes-long hearing taken up by two witnesses.

The magistrate had also directed the prosecutors to produce a complete list of pending testimonies.

The list was produced in court on Wednesday but prosecuting lawyer Anthony Vella said it was not final.  

The magistrate said she had called for the final list.  

Contempt of court warning

After glancing at the list, she warned the prosecutors that she would find them in contempt, adding that they were trying to hoodwink the court. 

The document listed the same persons in respect of whom the prosecution had requested authorisation from the court to seek legal assistance from Bosnia Herzegovina, the UK and Italy.

Earlier in the sitting, the prosecution had requested letters rogatory to be sent to those jurisdictions. Those persons had apparently not testified in the magisterial inquiry that had cost the taxpayer over €7.5 million.

However, the wording of the prosecution’s request was  vague.

The information is being sought to show that “Pilatus facilitated money laundering” and although “many” of the former bank employees were no longer in Malta, “they were indispensable,” the prosecutors said. 

Eight of those witnesses apparently reside in the UK and the prosecutors said they expect them to be tracked down to testify via video conference, but no addresses were produced.   

The prosecutors also said they wanted to forward a request for a European Investigation Order to Italy, saying that “Mr xxx is a former employee of the bank and thus might have relevant information.”

“Note 'might.' If this is not clear evidence that this is a fishing expedition in your own words, then I don’t know what it is,” said the magistrate, shooting down that request too.

When, a few minutes later, the prosecution came up with the same names as in the list handed to the court, the magistrate proceeded to dictate a strongly-worded minute explaining what had happened.

The minute was addressed to the attorney general "so that she may be informed about what happened today under the signature of her officials.”  

AG lawyer Vella tried to put in a word of explanation, saying that there was “no bad faith.” 

Waste of time

During the sitting, the defence also dictated a lengthy minute, complained that despite the court's best efforts, Wednesday's 90-minute sitting was wasted on a solitary witness- an official from a company that had offered services to Pilatus in the pre-licensing phase - and the prosecution’s request for letters rogatory.

The defence said it was “surprised” that, after a “maxi inquiry costing between €7.5m and €10 million which should have left no stone unturned, the prosecution insisted on producing more evidence.

All this was prejudicing the accused’s right to a fair hearing within a reasonable time, said Sant Fournier’s lawyer, Stefano Filletti.

The defence said it was also perplexed about certain moves by the prosecution which had declared that the AG had no Maltese witnesses left [to produce]. What about (acting money laundering reporting officer) Antoniella Gauci?

And what about top officials Ali Sadr, Hamid Ghanbari, Mehmet Tasli, and Luis Felipe Rivera, asked the lawyer. Those former top Pilatus officials were the most relevant witnesses to the case and yet, they have not yet testified.

So far, Filletti said, all that the prosecution had produced was evidence showing that the bank had followed correct procedures when it was set up and in the licensing stage.

Once Sant Fournier and the bank itself stood charged, they could not have acted alone but with all officials, and those five were the top officials, went on Filletti.

Since no judicial action has been taken against any of them, there was no obstacle for those five to testify, particularly Gauci and Tasli in respect of whom the AG appeared to have issued a nolle prosequi. (No prosecution)

Gauci and Tasli were more salaried than Sant Fournier and “more important” within the structure of Pilatus bank.

So if the AG deemed that certain benefits applied to those two, why not likewise to Sant Fournier and the bank?

AG's closed-door testimony sought

Lawyer Stefan Camilleri, assisting the bank, stepped in to inform the court that he was filing an application to have the AG’s testimony given on Tuesday behind closed doors, produced in these proceedings.

The bank was being bombarded by judicial letters from disgruntled clients seeking to retrieve their funds from the now-shuttered bank, he said. 

A civil suit had also been filed to that effect, explained Camilleri.

“The AG must at least tell us which accounts are linked to the alleged money laundering and which are not,” insisted the lawyer.

The magistrate said it was a fair request. "After a year, they should know which are suspected accounts or transactions,” she remarked.

The case continues in December.

Lawyers Maurice Meli and Kathleen Calleja Grima were also counsel to Sant Fournier.

Lawyer Roberto Cassar was also assisting Fabio Axisa who was appointed as competent person to represent Pilatus Bank

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