The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Daphne inquiry - Witnesses keep telling board: 'not me, ask the other one'

Monday, 27 January 2020, 14:34 Last update: about 1 month ago

Former MFSA chief Joe Bannister said he can give an assurance that the MFSA did its job, "I just can't tell you how".

He was replying to a string of questions by the board of inquiry into the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia and, a few seconds earlier, one of the board members had asked him to be more forthcoming in his answers.

Former chief Justice Joseph Said Pullicino, one of the board members, told Bannister to provide all information he was being requested. “If you have any information, please pass it on to us. We are in the worst situation here... witnesses keep telling us: ‘not me, ask the other one.’” 

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“I am under oath. Rest assured, that I am giving you everything,” Bannister replied.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated in a targeted car bombing on October 16, 2017 outside her home in Bidnija.

The inquiry was set up to establish whether the murder could have been avoided.

The inquiry board, made up of Justice Emeritus Michael Mallia, Chief Justice Emeritus Joseph Said Pullicino and Judge Abigail Lofaro, is bound to present the inquiry report, once it is completed, to the Prime Minister and Attorney General, to notify the public that the inquiry has been concluded and presented to the Prime Minister, and to publish the report within eight working days from when it is delivered to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has to table the report in Parliament within five days of receiving it.

The inquiry, which started in December, must be completed within nine months.

Follow minute by minute updates below. Please refresh for latest updates

16:19 With that, the sitting has concluded. The next sitting will take place on 3 February at 2:30pm and then on 5 February at 2pm

16:18 "Nexia BT had no banking licence during my time at the helm. They fell under the corporate providers list, for accountants,” Bannister says.

16:17 Was there an MFSA policy that new banks needed a substantial shareholding with existing banks, Bannister is asked. He replies: It was a Central Bank policy. It was a bit tricky at the time of EU accession because it was against free trade. The due diligence is carried out on the people running the bank too.

16:16 "We needed more small banks, but I could not overrule the supervisory council in its decision to award a licence," Bannister says. The director general had told him that they were taking appropriate action on Pilatus.

16:15 "With hindisght, do you see room for improvement?" asks Lofaro. "I don't know. It needs to be studied in terms of developments. I've been out of the loop for two years and it's not fair," Bannister says.

16:14 “All I am telling you is that whatever they found, I worked on,” he says, to which the judges ask whether he could provide them with a guarantee. "I cannot give you a guarantee on the quality of the investigations."

16:13 "I assure you that the MFSA did its job, I just can't tell you how,” Bannister says. The judges are still not convinced. “The buck did not stop with you, you yourself said so.”

16:04 Said Pullicino sounds exasperated… “if you have any information, please pass it on to us. We are in the worst situation here... witnesses keep telling us: ‘not me, ask the other one.’” “I am under oath. Rest assured, that I am giving you everything,” Bannister says.

16:02 Asked whether he was still an advisor to the new Prime Minister (Robert Abela), he said he didn't know as he hadn't spoken to the new Prime Minister yet.

16:00 Bannister confirms that once he stepped down, because of retirement, he was appointed a special advisor. "The Prime Minister (Joseph Muscat) insisted, he said he needed my help with Brexit," he says. "I said it must be pro bono."

15:59 "Did you ask for the KPMG report?" the board asks. No, Bannister replies. Obviously there was an issue which was being handled. He said he had never spoken to the Prime Minister about it and the Prime Minister could not speak to him about it.

15:58 Bannister says that Juanita Bencini of KPMG had said that the FIAU had found some deficiencies and that it had sent a letter saying everything was in order. Pilatus had held an internal investigation with law firm Camilleri Preziosi, he said.

15:56 Said Pullicino: “we have a situation where a bank licensed by the MFSA comes into the limelight in the Panama Papers. Then you see someone leaving with suitcases in the dead of night…” Bannister replies: “Investigations were underway but we did not know the details. I’m not informed, I don’t know. I’m not shedding responsibility, I’m telling you exactly what the situation was in my time.”

15:55 “I tried to keep a level of relativity between our salaries and those typical of the industry but it was not always possible.” 

15:54 One of the issues was the recruiting of foreign agents to work for the MFSA. "We were open to employing people, but the disparity between Maltese and foreign salaries is not something that could be breached."

15:53 Every company which is licenced had to carry out supervisory reporting, he said. The director of each respective unit had the power to carry out supervisory visits. There were internal resources to deal with them, but business had expanded so fast that the staff could not cope.

15:52 Bannister says that the MFSA’s money was never passed on to the FIAU. “Our surplusses all went to the government. Our problem was that business was increasing and we couldn't employ enough staff. We were always behind the curve."

15:50 Was there some form of formal cooperation between the FIAU and MFSA? The FIAU board had a representative of the MFSA, Dr. Anton Bartolo who is a well known authority on money laundering. “There was a small financial problem on the side of the FIAU… Manfred Galdes’s salary as CEO was lower than as a director of the MFSA,” Bannister says.

15:48 Keith Schembri, Sai Mizzi, Brian Tonna, Nexia BT never brought business to the MFSA, Bannister says.

15:46 When the bank's licence was withdrawn, Bannister was told that the licence holder's American charges were the reason.

15:45 It was clear that what was reported in the press before the 2017 election - that the MFSA did not want to investigate Pilatus Bank - was not the accurate picture, Bannister says.

15:44 The board asks the witness what his role was exactly. "Nobody reads the law," he replies chidingly.

15:42 Bannister says that the questions he is being asked should be referred to the head of the supervisory board.

15:40 Asked if he ever investigated them after public claims made by Caruana Galizia, he said, “there was on site supervision by the banking unit. I am not privy to the reports by the banking unit to the FIAU." "Even if I had asked to see these reports I would not be allowed to see them."

15:39 Despite the reputational damage wrought by them, in the financial sector, these were not licensed entities by the MFSA, Bannister says.

15:36 Bannister said he never met Keith Schembri or Nexia BT at the time.

15:33 Pre-licencing would be done with KPMG and it would see if it is a credible institution, he said.  Camilleri would not be involved in the licensing process after that stage, he said. That was done by the supervisory council.

15:32 The board asks Bannister whether he knew the head of Pilatus Bank. "Yes," he replies. 

15:31 "In my time," he says, "there were three in charges of Supervisory Services. First there was Mr Carbone, then Mr André Camilleri. The licence to Pilatus Bank was given by Camilleri when he was head of Supervisory Services. Marion Scicluna was then appointed four or five years ago."

15:28 Said Pullicino asks who were the people responsible and what their role was. 

15:27 Asked whether he wanted to defend himself, he says: "I would always tell them to look at article 10 which describes the function of the supervisory council". The enforcement part of the agency did not report to him directly, he said.

15:26 He is asked whether he had ever received a report on Pilatus from FIAU or other bodies? "The law gives a distinction between the board, chairman and supervisory council. I never received this report." The council doesn't report to the board, he says.

15:25 He had been chair for 3 years in 1995 and then rejoined in 1999. He retired in March 2018.

15:25 He is asked by the board about his tenure as Chairman of the MFSA.

15:25 Former MFSA chief Joe Bannister takes the stand.

15:25 We are back inside the courtroom.

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14:39 Cassar has been asked to testify once more to clarify a few points with the board. He had already testified two weeks ago. 

14:39 The former Malta Financial Services Authority chief, Joe Bannister, is expected to testify after Cassar.

14:37 The request has been upheld. The press have been asked to leave the courtroom. 

14:36 Cassar has asked that his testimony be heard behind closed doors.

14:36 The three judges have entered the courtroom.

 

 

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