US prosecutors silently building a money-laundering case against Iranian banker Ali Sadr Hasheminejad were granted a warrant to search his e-mails in April 2014, at a time when Pilatus Bank was in the process of obtaining a category two investment licence from Malta’s financial services watchdog.

Recent court filings in the case against Mr Sadr show a US court signed off on search warrants demanding access to 16 e-mail addresses linked to the Iranian banker, his family members and associates on April 16, 2014.

Among the e-mail addresses mentioned in the search warrants are three accounts linked to Robert Klingensmith, who still appears on the Malta Registry of Companies as one of Pilatus Bank Plc’s directors. 

In an overview of the investigation justifying the search warrants, investigators noted how Mustafa Cetinel, another individual under their spotlight, served as a director and legal representative for Pilatus Bank.

The request for a warrant to access e-mail records described the Hasheminejads as an influential family with substantial ties to the government of Iran.

Substantial ties to the government of Iran

It was noted in the search warrant filings that US Office of Foreign Assets Control had previously sanctioned several entities in Malta as being fronts for embargoed Iranian entities.

Officials from the Malta Financial Services Authority told the European Parliament in April 2018 that there was no way they could have known the banker was under investigation at the time of the licensing process.

A leaked 2016 FIAU report detailing transfers to a bank account owned by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri made passing reference to the fact that the banker was being investigated in a “foreign jurisdiction” for money-laundering and illegal money transmission.

Mr Sadr was arrested last March on accusations that he facilitated transactions for a $475 million Iranian-Venezuelan housing project, in violation of US sanctions against Iran.

Prosecutors said in the search warrant request that these transactions involved a variety of non-transparent entities, banks in high-risk jurisdictions and frequently used Swiss bank accounts controlled by Mr Hasheminejad and his family.

According to investigators, an informant from within PDVSA, Venezuela’s State-owned oil company, came forward with documents and information describing the project’s inner workings.

Pilatus Bank shot to prominence in Malta after assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia said a whistleblower passed on documents from the bank’s safe linking Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife to the mystery Panama company Egrant. A magisterial inquiry concluded last year did not find any evidence to back the allegations.

 

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