The Malta Independent 25 May 2020, Monday

Updated: Egrant inquiry clears PM and his wife, finds that signatures on declarations were falsified

Neil Camilleri Sunday, 22 July 2018, 10:38 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Egrant inquiry did not find evidence that the third Panama company belonged to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat or his wife Michelle, or that the PM’s wife had received a $1.07 million payment into a Dubai account.

It also found that declaration of trust handed to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja contained falsified signatures.

The conclusions of the inquiry report were published this morning by the Attorney General’s Office.

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The inquiry also did not find any evidence that the PM and his wife, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, or John Dalli were involved in corrupt practices or money laundering or suspect financial transactions deriving from the accounts of Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) in Azerbaijan, through Pilatus Bank.

The inquiry, which spanned over 15 months, was conducted by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja. It was requested by the PM after claims, by slain journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, that his wife was the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant, a company whose existence came to light in the Panama Papers revelations. The other two companies belonged to Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi.

Caruana Galizia, who had spoken to former Pilatus Bank employee Maria Efimova (the Russian whistleblower), had claimed that that documents proving that Michelle Muscat was the UBO of Egrant were kept in the bank’s kitchen safe. She had later claimed that $1.07 million had been transferred into an account held by Egrant in Dubai from an account held by a company called Sahra FZCO at Pilatus Bank.

The inquiry examined documents seized from Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank and interviewed many witnesses, including Daphne Caruana Galizia, Maria Efimova, the PM and his wife, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, John Dalli, Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, Pierre Portelli and other officials.

The inquiry requested information from Panama, Belgium, the UAE, Germany and the US and used a number of technical and legal experts to analyse the allegations.

Falsified signatures

The inquiry found that there had been a filing cabinet in the bank’s kitchen but no declarations of trust showing that Michelle Muscat owned Egrant were found. The only declarations of trust that were produced were the ones handed over to the inquiry by Pierre Portelli.

These were analysed by Forensic Document Analysts Keyforensic Services Ltd of the UK, which found that the signatures of Jaqueline Alexander as director of Dubro Limited S.A were falsified.

The inquiry says that whoever falsified these documents used information that was openly accessible on the internet. Since these declarations were falsified they could not be considered as proof.

The only documents found at Pilatus Bank that had Michelle Muscat’s name on them were downloaded copies of newspaper reports, the inquiry found.

It also did not result that Brian Tonna had deposited Egrant declarations of trust at Pilatus Bank.

There were no bank account opening forms for the PM and his wife. The bank did not hold any accounts for Egrant. Joseph and Michelle Muscat did not have accounts at the bank.

There was no evidence that any payments had been made to Egrant through a Pilatus account held by Sahra FZCO.

 

Pilatus Bank footage

The inquiry also looked at the famous incident when the former chairman of Pilatus Bank was filmed leaving the building with a suitcase in hand.

Footage taken from the bank showed the chairman entering the building and taking out a tablet and some papers from the suitcase.  After speaking to another official he put the same items back into the luggage before leaving. The inquiry said the allegation that he made off with evidence was not proven.

The inquiry confirmed that there was a flight from Malta to Azerbaijan, but there were no passengers on the plane when it left.

 

John Dalli and Keith Schembri

Documents found at Pilatus Bank included a list of names of clients, including PEPs. The list included Keith Schembri and Sahra FZCO. There was no reference to John Dalli, Egrant or people with the surname Muscat. There were emails that referred to Russian corporate clients and Maltese PEPs.

On another list, John Dalli and Keith Schembri were mentioned as Domestic PEPs.

In another list Dalli and Schembri were both listed as bank clients.

There were no mentions of Egrant, Hearnville and Tillgate, or references to attempts to open accounts for these companies.

John Dalli had a personal account which had been closed by the time the inquiry was launched. Records do not show any significant transactions, and there was no record of transactions involving Azerbaijan.

Keith Schembri had two accounts at Pilatus Bank. He did not use these regularly and there was no record of transactions involving Azeri nationals.

The inquiry found transactions related to Willerby Trading Ltd, which is subject to a separate inquiry. There was also a transaction showing that Schembri had sent a fee payment to the New Zealand auditors that had opened his Haast Trust.

Konrad Mizzi and his relatives do not hold any accounts at Pilatus Bank.

Sahra FZCO

There was nothing to support the existence of a company called Al Sahra FZCO, which means that this company could not have made payments through Pilatus Bank.

There were two companies registered in Dubai – Sahra FZCO and Shams Al Sahra FZCO – which were clients of Pilatus Bank and held accounts with the bank. These companies made foreign transactions through Pilatus Bank.

The UBO of Sahra FZCO was Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, and the UBO of Shams Al Sahra FZCO were Nijat and Tale Heydarov, the children of Azeri Energy Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov.

These companies did not make any payments to Egrant through Pilatus Bank or through any Dubai accounts.

No trace of a $1.07 million payment from Sahra FZCO to Egrant Inc was found. However, during the same period, transactions running into the millions were made from Sahra FZCO’s Pilatus accounts to Dubai accounts. However these were not made to Egrant. Harbinson Forensics did not find any link between these payments and Michelle Muscat or a company called Egrant.

No transaction from the two companies described as a ‘loan payment,’ as alleged by Maria Efimova, was found.

The report says that requests for the Dubai authorities to say whether Egrant, Tillgate and Hearnville held any accounts in Dubai have still not been answered.

Nexia BT had opened up a number of companies in Panama and the BVI. Tillgate and Hearnville had been acquired by Mizzi and Schembri, who had also opened up trusts, but there was no evidence that the same had been done with Egrant. While Nexia BT’s Karl Cini had tried to open up bank accounts for the first two companies, there were no attempts to do the same for Egrant.

 

Contradicting statements

The inquiry said it had found it difficult to reconcile the version given by Maria Efimova with the versions given by Daphne Caruana Galizia and Pierre Portelli. In some cases the versions were so contrasting that the court had to decide who to believe and who not to believe.

Some claims were incompatible, while others were proven to be false.

There were inconsistencies about whether there was a CCTV camera in the bank’s kitchen, and about the dates Caruana Galizia and Efimova had met.

Caruana Galizia had said Efimova had shown her printouts of the declarations of trust.  Portelli said Efimova had a copy of the declarations and had promised to give him a copy, although this never happened. But when she testified in front of the inquiry, Efimova denied having taken copies or photos of the declarations.

Efimova told the inquiry that it was Daphne Caruana Galizia who had showed her the declarations of trust and asked her about them and about the bank account opening forms of Egrant and Sahra FZCO. Caruana Galizia had never told her where she obtained the declarations of trust.  

Caruana Galizia had claimed that the declarations had been deposited at the bank by Brian Tonna, but this was not confirmed by the inquiry.

The journalist had claimed to have seen bank opening forms but no record about the existence of such documents had been found.

Pierre Portelli had testified that Caruana Galizia and Efimova had told him that they had presented the forms to the inquiring magistrate, but the inquiry never received the said documents.

There were discrepancies about the actual documents, with Efimova saying that there was no letterhead but the docs presented by Pierre Portelli had the letter had of Dubro Ltd and Aliator S.A.

The inquiry found that Pilatus Bank used the Swift system for its foreign transactions.  

There was no evidence about an alleged $400,000 payment from Negarid Sadr to Michelle Buttigieg, co-owner of Buttardi and Michelle Muscat’s business partner.

The allegations that Brian Tonna and Tillgate Inc had accounts at Pilatus Bank were not proven.

 

Conclusion

Magistrate Bugeja concluded that the transactions alleged by Efimova, which were related to the alleged ownership of Egrant by Michelle Muscat, and the alleged payment by Sahra FZCO were contradicted by the facts.

Much of what Efimova told the inquiry also contradicted what Caruana Galizia said she was told by Efimova.

Caruana Galizia’s articles show that the journalist “believed, or wanted to believe Efimova.” But their testimonies and, up to a point, the testimony given by Pierre Portelli, contradicted each other.

There was one point that Caruana Galizia and Portelli agreed on - that Efimova had told them that she had copies of the declarations of trust and bank account opening forms. But Efimova had denied this completely.

Some claims made by Efimova had been confirmed, but these had nothing to do with Egrant.

The magistrate pointed out that Efimova was subject to criminal proceedings instated at the request of the bank and that she also had feelings of resentment towards the Maltese authorities, including about how she was not allowed to travel to see her sick mother.

The allegations were not based on evidence. The circumstantial evidence was not equivocal and ambiguous, the magistrate concluded.

 

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