Pilatus Bank chairman Seyed Ali Sadr speaks to Jacob Borg about his late-night luggage escapades, the bank’s compliance standards and also his relationship with the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.

The image of Seyed Ali Sadr leaving his Ta’ Xbiex offices in pitch darkness carrying two large bags is seared in many people’s minds. It raised fears of a cover up, just hours after blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia last Thursday claimed that the Panama company Egrant was owned by the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat.

Read: Muscat asks inquiring magistrate to investigate Egrant claims

She also claimed that hefty money transfers were made to Egrant and to Panama companies owned by Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri via a Pilatus Bank account owned by the daughter of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev.

Dr Muscat, Dr Mizzi, Minister Within the Office of the Prime Minister, and Mr Schembri, Dr Muscat’s closest aide, all deny the claims.

So, was all the incriminating evidence in those two bags?

“No,” says the chairman.

Despite the blogger’s claims leaving the country reeling in shock, Mr Sadr says that last Thursday was just a normal day at the bank for him.

He had arrived in Malta for a scheduled board meeting the following day. CCTV footage from the airport and the bank proves that the two bags were carried off the flight that Thursday morning and remained by his side throughout the day.

No client records were touched or removed that day, he insists.

Suspicions were raised about Mr Sadr’s version of events because no airline/airport tags were spotted on the two large bags. Mr Sadr notes they were both regulation hand luggage size.

He has since admitted that the circuitous route he took while holding the two bags, which saw him walk several blocks in a bid to avoid the media, was a mistake.

It is pointed out to him that Ms Caruana Galizia said she was given information about the locations of safes, bank account movements and documents held by the bank.

“Be careful about what is specific. Everything is specific. What is important is which specifics matter: that we have a cabinet in a room or that we have those accounts?”

The blogger also claimed that the bank held accounts for the Aliyev families.

Mr Sadr replies he cannot comment on specific clients.

An inspection by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit reportedly found serious compliance shortcomings at the bank when it came to its handling of politically-exposed persons. A report in this sense was also submitted to the Malta Financial Services Authority.

“I cannot comment about the conclusive findings of the FIAU. I refer you to the FIAU to ask them about their conclusive findings”, Mr Sadr says.

When it is pointed out that no such referral was required because the findings were known to this newspaper, he notes that the bank’s processes could be verified.

“You can verify this. You can go online. There is no online banking. We do not allow our clients to go online and initiate a transfer. That does not exist”.

Pilatus Bank’s website does in fact display an online banking section where registered users can log in.

Asked to explain this, Mr Sadr replies it only allows users to view their accounts but not conduct transfers.

One of the services advertised on Pilatus’s website is the ability to remotely transfer money without needing the physical presence of the account holder.

Ms Caruana Galizia alleged that over $1 million was transferred to Egrant.

Mr Sadr remarks that any transfers would require Pilatus to obtain signatures from the account holders, either in person or by registered letter or e-mail. This meant there was a clear paper trail behind all transactions conducted by the bank.

All documents were made available to the authorities, Mr Sadr continues.

“We worked round the clock to provide everything and anything we could.” That included the bank’s client list, he quickly adds.

Asked whether this meant the authorities were aware that Pilatus Bank conducted business with the Aliyevs, Mr Sadr again declined to comment on the basis of client confidentiality.

Ms Caruana Galizia’s most damning claim was that the bank held a declaration of trust linking Ms Muscat to Egrant. The day after, Pilatus Bank denied ever doing business with the Muscat family.

When it is noted that while he refuses to entertain speculation about who the bank’s clients may or may not be the bank publicly denies any association with the Muscats, Mr Sadr replies that the gravity of the accusations meant the bank had to speak out.

“It is one thing to talk about speculation. It is another to speak about a magisterial order. When the magisterial order was issued, it was not just speculation any more. Those are serious issues. That’s why we came out,” he says.

Mr Schembri reportedly has an account at Pilatus Bank, which only deals with high-net worth individuals capable of making significant deposits.

Read: Schembri accused of passport sale kickbacks by Busuttil

Mr Sadr says that, as the chairman of a Maltese bank, it was a natural fact that he would get to know a lot of people from both sides of the political fence. He recalls that when he first came to Malta, the Labour government was not yet in power.

The licensing process involved thousands of documents being put together. Reacting to a comment that it would certainly be useful having the Prime Minister’s chief of staff helping in the licensing process, Mr Sadr insists it was not Mr Schembri but the regulators who approved the bank’s licence.

Mr Sadr promises that Pilatus Bank would remain in Malta for many years to come.


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