Prosecutors in the US are seeking to withdraw criminal charges against Iranian banker Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, saying that pursuing the case would “not be in the interest of justice” due to the resources it would require.

Hasheminejad, who owned the notorious Pilatus Bank in Malta, was arrested in the US and accused of violating US sanctions by funneling $115 million to Iran through a Venezuelan construction project.

He was found guilty in March and was due to be sentenced in August but will now likely walk a free man, with prosecutors in Manhattan seeking to drop the case.

State attorney Geoffrey Berman told the judge that there was a high likelihood that litigation in the case over suppression of evidence would drag on and require significant resources.

Hasheminejad had filed legal complaints about the way the case had been handled and argued that prosecutors had failed to disclose evidence to his lawyers. 

In his submission to the court, Berman said that Hasheminejad "would have pursued different investigative, litigation, and trial strategies had the disclosures been made". 

The decision comes in the same week that the US and Iran completed a complicated - and controversial - prisoner swap deal.

Bloomberg quoted a law professor at the Peter J. Tobin School of Business at St. John’s University as saying the prosecutors’ move was “highly unusual”.

“I allow for all human error. But I just find it difficult to fathom how this could have happened in this particular instance,” Anthony Sabino said.

Hasheminejad's lawyer told Bloomberg he and his client were not sure why the government had decided to drop the case.

'Extradite Hasheminejad to Malta'

The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation said that Hasheminejad should now be extradited to Malta, to face separate criminal charges related to Pilatus Bank.

Hasheminejad’s release on a technicality did not change the “overwhelming” evidence against him, the Foundation said, and there was nothing stopping the government or attorney general from requesting his immediate extradition.

“He has destroyed Malta’s reputation in the process of using the country as a base for facilitating criminal activity, via Pilatus Bank,” the Foundation said.

Rule of law NGO Repubblika echoed the Foundation's calls for Hasheminejad to be extradited to Malta, saying this should happen before he was freed and "allowed to escape justice". 

So too did the Nationalist Party, which in a statement noted Hasheminejad's ties to Keith Schembri, who quit in disgrace as the prime minister's chief of staff late last year. 

Schembri had an account at Pilatus Bank in which he is alleged to have received funds related to passport sales. The PN said Schembri had also received money from former Allied Newspapers managing director Adrian Hillman into the account. Inquiries into those allegations have yet to be concluded.

Pilatus Bank was shut down by the European Central Bank in November 2018 following a series of money laundering accusations and claims, and two years after financial intelligence reports flagged evidence of money-laundering and serious compliance shortcomings at the bank.

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