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Financial investigators comb through Satabank's client files

MFSA and FIAU scrutinise bank's compliance with anti-money laundering rules

The MFSA and FIAU are carrying out a comprehensive on-site audit at Satabank’s St Julian’s offices. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The MFSA and FIAU are carrying out a comprehensive on-site audit at Satabank’s St Julian’s offices. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Satabank is facing a comprehensive examination of its compliance with anti-money laundering and terrorist financing laws after catching the eye of the MFSA and FIAU, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.

Inspectors from both bodies have been carrying out an extensive audit of Satabank’s client files, to check for any shortcomings in the way it goes about its operations.

An audit firm has also been called in to assist the Malta Financial Services Authority and Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit in their work.

The on-site examination at Satabank’s St Julian’s headquarters is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

Extensive sampling of Satabank’s files is taking place to give the MFSA and FIAU a strong basis to decide if any action should be taken against the bank.

The authorities will only see if any such action is warranted after the audit has been completed.

Prior to the bank gaining its licence in Malta, Satabank’s Bulgarian co-owned Christo Georgiev ran an e-money business in Luxembourg.

The group the bank forms part of voluntarily surrendered its electronic money institution licence issued by Luxembourg after Satabank was given its licence in Malta.

Contacted by The Sunday Times of Malta about the audit, a spokesman for the bank expressed his confidence that Satabank is fully compliant with all relevant anti-money laundering and terrorist financing legislation.

“The bank is not allowed to comment on audits or other checks that may be carried out by the authorities,” the spokesman added.

The MFSA and FIAU both declined to comment about specific cases.

According to the FIAU’s latest annual report, 45 joint inspections were carried out with the MFSA on entities in the financial sector.

Satabank told this paper in March that the bank had tightened its criteria for the selection and on-boarding of new clients, to reflect the bank’s risk appetite, and in order to stay consistent with the upcoming regulatory ratios.

The bank was named by a Sicilian prosecutor last year as having been used by fuel trader Gordon Debono to receive illicit payments through his Maltese company Petroplus Ltd, as part of an alleged €30 million fuel smuggling ring.

Mr Debono and PetroPlus Ltd were slapped with US sanctions in February.

Malta’s banking sector has faced a tumultuous period over the last few years.

Nemea Bank was placed under administration in 2016 and its licence withdrawn the following year by the European Central Bank, acting upon the MFSA’s advice.

The bank is appealing the decision.

In March, the MFSA appointed a “competent person” to take  control of Pilatus Bank.

The move came after the arrest of bank owner Seyed Ali Sadr Hasheminejad on sanction-busting and money-laundering charges.

Mr Hasheminejad denies the charges, and Pilatus Bank’s directors are taking legal action against the MFSA to regain control of the bank.

US prosecutors said in May that the funds used by Mr Hasheminejad to set up the bank came from “criminal proceeds”.

jacob.borg@timesofmalta.com

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