Director overseeing Pilatus resigns as board member of bank’s Maltese lawyers’ firm

Pilatus bank competent person appointed by MFSA is company director on PLCs owned by Pilatus bank Malta lawyers DF Advocates

Robert Ancilleri
Robert Ancilleri

An auditor tasked by the Maltese financial regulator to take over the shuttered Pilatus Bank as its ‘competent person’, is a non-executive director on companies owned by Pilatus Bank’s Maltese lawyers, DF Advocates.

He resigned his post on Horizon Finance plc on Friday 15 January, a day after his new role was announced by the MFSA.

DF Advocates had issued statements on behalf of Pilatus Bank when the Egrant inquiry was published, in which Pilatus took to task critics of the bank and its services rendered to various Maltese individuals and Azeri oligarchs.

Until Friday morning, Ancilleri appeared as a non-executive, independent director on the board of DF Consultancy Services, which forms part of the DF group. He is also listed as a director of Horizon Finance plc and Shoreline Mall plc, both companies owned by DF partners.

The MFSA refrained from announcing these positions in its official statement on Ancilleri’s appointment, instead focusing on his previous role as auditor inside HSBC Malta and other audit companies.

On Friday afternoon, the MFSA told MaltaToday that 

Mr Robert Ancilleri has been selected by the Authority that Ancilleri had stepped down from any directorships “that may, in any way, pose any perceived conflict of interest.” 

The MFSA this week replaced the person appointed to run Pilatus Bank, after the bank’s shareholders filed American judicial proceedings against Lawrence Connell.

Connell was appointed in March 2018 to take over Pilatus as its ‘competent person’ after the arrest of Pilatus owner Ali Sadr Hasheminejad in Washington D.C. that year. Hasheminejad, a naturalised American and St Kitts & Nevis citizen, has since been acquitted of charges of money laundering and breaching US sanctions in Iran.

But the bank wants Connell to provide it with all the information in his hand since being installed by the MFSA, so that Pilatus can file proceedings against the European Central Bank, which cancelled its bank licence after Hasheminejad’s arrest in February 2018.

The MFSA said Connell had resigned from his role as competent person with immediate effect Robert Ancilleri has been selected to occupy the role of competent person.

Robert Ancilleri is an auditor by profession and runs his own practice providing accounting, business, and regulatory advisory services. He previously served as the Chief Accounting Officer at HSBC Malta, and was previously part of the setting-up team of Banif Bank.

In December, Pilatus was denied a request to summon Connell, whose information is required to assess the level of damages,that Pilatus will request from the European Central Bank, in a yet-to-be-instituted court case.

In December 2020, Justice Joseph A. DiClerico denied the request for ‘discovery’ from New Hampshire resident Lawrence Connell.

The revocation of the Malta-based private bank, controversial for its close association to members of the Azerbaijani ruling dynasty, came in March 2018 when owner Hasheminejad was arrested in the U.S.A. But in an unprecedented turn of events, after first being found guilty by the New York court, the United States District Attorney filed a nolle prosequi, effectively throwing the sponge over a grievous error in withholding evidence from the Hasheminejad defence team. The courts have since expunged the guilty verdict. 

Pilatus’s German lawyer, Otto Hendrik Behrends, claimed that the ECB revoked the bank’s licence on the prompting of the MFSA after the wrongful arrest of Hasheminejad. Behrends said Connell is a key witness in an annulment action at the European Court of Justice, because he is at the centre of MFSA’s decisions and has knowledge of ECB’s “improper motives” to shut down the bank.

Pilatus has accused both the ECB and the MFSA of shuttering the bank because of falsely alleged crimes that predated the bank’s existence. “At the time of the indictment, the Maltese Financial Services Authority and Malta’s political leaders were besieged by international accusations of ‘looking the other way’ while Malta’s banks enabled money laundering and global sanctions violations.”

Hasheminejad ran a private bank in Malta, which he had licensed in 2013, and which largely dealt with millions in reserves owned by the Azerbaijani ruling family and oligarchs.

His bank was implicated in the Egrant affair, when the late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed the bank had processed a $1 million payment from the Aliyevs of Azerbaijan to the wife of former prime minister Joseph Muscat. The allegation was disproven by a Maltese magisterial inquiry along with other allegations she made about Pilatus Bank, but by then the banks’ other dealings for Azerbaijan had come under the lens of financial investigators. When Hasheminejad was arrested in Dulles airport in the United States in February 2018, the Maltese financial regulator shut down the bank and started an investigation.