There was no reason for Pilatus Bank to be refused a banking licence when it applied for one, the former director general of the Malta Financial Services Authority said on Wednesday. 

“Had we had the slightest doubt about the legitimacy of its operations, rest assured that it would not have been given a licence,” Andre Camilleri said in court. 

Lawyer Andre Camilleri was testifying at the public inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. He was the MFSA’s director general when Pilatus received a licence in 2014 and retired later that year. 

Pilatus Bank had its licence revoked by the European Central Bank in 2018 after the bank’s chairman, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, was indicted on money laundering charges in the USA. 

Dr Camilleri said that the MFSA had appointed a foreign firm to vet the bank’s application and argued that obtaining a licence was “just step one” in the compliance process. 

All minutes of meetings leading to the issue of the licence to Pilatus Bank were contained in a dossier which “I assume this board has,” he said. 

Dr Camilleri emphasised that there was a clear segregation between the MFSA’s board of governors and the supervisory council, which he chaired, during his time in office. Former MFSA chairman Joe Bannister had made the same point when he testified last month.

The former director general said that although surprise inspections were not generally the rule, an inspector could “go and knock at the bank’s door and demand documents.” 

Inspectors tasked with assessing banks had to show up with a list of documents they required, Dr Camilleri said. He was speaking in reply to questions about previous testimony, in which the inquiry heard that Pilatus Bank had insisted that missing documents had always been there, but that FIAU inspectors had not asked for them.

Friends recall life in the spotlight

Petra Caruana Dingli, a long-time friend of Ms Caruana Galizia’s, described how Daphne had become “more tense” during her last years, especially since 2015. 

The journalist was regularly photographed when out with friends and the photos would end up on social media, she said. 

Attacks on the journalist became more open, Ms Caruana Dingli said, with posts on Glenn Bedingfield’s blog and “a number of people around the [then] Prime Minister” attacking her. Mr Bedingfield, who serves as government whip, worked at the Office of the Prime Minister at the time .

“Daphne was not afraid of being physically harmed but being under pressure all the time made her very uncomfortable,” Ms Caruana Dingli said, noting that the risks intensified after her friend began publishing “bigger” stories around 2015. 

Another close friend of the assassinated journalist, Gloria Beacom, recalled incidents when Ms Caruana Galizia was targeted. 

On one occasion in 2013, a visit to the Rabat feast had taken a dark turn when Daphne had to take refuge inside a nearby convent after being verbally abused by “a screaming woman”, Ms Beacom testified. 

Oħorġuha minn hemm, minn xagħarha. Dik mara ħażina,” [‘Drag her out by her hair, she’s a bad woman’] the woman had shrieked, until the police intervened. 

Knowing that she was publicly targeted, Ms Caruana Galizia had once refused to meet up, Ms Beacom recalled. 

“It wouldn’t be fair on you,” Ms Caruana Galizia had told her friend over the phone. 

Asked by the board whether Ms Caruana Galizia had ever opened up about perceived threats, Ms Beacom replied in the negative. 

“That wasn’t her style. If she felt something, she would probably have written it.”

At the start of Wednesday's sitting, Ms Caruana Galizia's sister Corinne Vella presented the inquiry with two dossiers which she said featured images dehumanising her sister and likening her to a witch. 

Ms Vella had already presented similar dossiers to the inquiry earlier this month

The inquiry continues on Friday. 

The board is chaired by former Judge Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Madam Justice Abigail Lofaro.
Lawyers Jason Azzopardi, Andrew Borg Cardona, Therese Comodini Cachia and Peter Caruana Galizia appear parte civile. 
Lawyer Chris Falzon Scerri appeared as state advocate. 

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