The arrest in the US of Pilatus Bank chairman Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad over a sanctions evasion scheme has again focused attention on the operations of this Maltese-registered company based at Ta’ Xbiex.

According to international news reports, Mr Hasheminejad has been charged with participating in a scheme to evade US sanctions and funnel more than $115 million through the American financial system. The allegations made also imply money-laundering, an illicit activity the Maltese government’s anti-money laundering agency had suspected when probing certain accounts handled by Pilatus Bank.

Presumption of innocence demands one does not jump into conclusions with regard to the US evasion scheme claims. But this latest development in the Pilatus Bank saga opens a can of worms and forces one to watch out for any cobwebs.

Nationalist MEP David Casa, who demanded the revocation of the Pilatus Bank licence in December, was quick to react to the arrest. In a statement yesterday, he said the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit had been aware since at least 2016 that the bank chairman was being investigated by the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in connection with illicit money transfers in another jurisdiction.

He then raises a point that – in view of what happened in the US over the past hours – should hopefully be followed up by robust action by the government but, more so, by the supposedly independent and autonomous institutions that have the very grave responsibility of protecting and upholding Malta’s reputation as a sound and reliable jurisdiction.

Mr Casa recalled that among the meetings held in Malta late last year by a delegation from the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil liberties, Justice and Home Affairs was one with representatives of the Malta Financial Services Authority. “[They] told us how thorough their due diligence processes were on Pilatus Bank,” he remarked.

“These institutions are either complicit or so incompetent it beggars belief. I reiterate my call on MFSA chairman and its Supervisory Board to desist in the irreparable damage they have caused to Malta’s reputation and to revoke the Pilatus Bank’s licence immediately,” Mr Casa insisted. That same appeal and calls to that effect were made by other quarters and, no doubt, all law-abiding citizens subscribe to them.

Irrespective of whether the Pilatus Bank chairman is convicted or acquitted by the US courts, the point at issue is that Malta’s reputation is again being challenged on the international plane. It is not ‘envious’ MEPs, competitor jurisdictions, the ‘negative and pessimistic’ Nationalist Opposition or the unfriendly independent press that are doing it. It is again the conduct of Pilatus Bank or, rather, its chairman, in this case.

When pressure was mounting in Malta on Pilatus Bank following the leaks of FIAU reports, Mr Hasheminejad’s reaction was to threaten media organisations, including this one, with crippling multi-million-dollar lawsuits in the US. It is not the Maltese media he will have to fight in the US courts but the determination of US agencies that, unlike their counterparts on this tiny island, operate without fear or favour and then let justice take its course.

The MFSA yesterday ordered Mr Hasheminejad’s removal as bank director. It did not say why it felt it had to act now since only last December it boasted of how thorough its due diligence processes were on Pilatus Bank.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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