Pilatus wants compensation, alleges corruption in MFSA’s choice for liquidation lawyers

Pilatus Bank owners file World Bank arbitration claim for damages in shuttering of bank in 2019, and claims choice of law firm Mamo TCV was to the benefit of incoming MFSA chairman John Mamo

MFSA chairman Prof. John Mamo
MFSA chairman Prof. John Mamo

The owners of Pilatus Bank, Alpene Ltd, are claiming “direct and intimate knowledge of the alleged corruption” of Maltese officials in connection with the controllership of the shuttered private bank.

The company filed a discovery application in the United States, to be able to question an American national, Elizabeth McCaul, who assisted in the bank’s controllership when it was shut down by the European Central Bank in February 2018.

Specifically, Alpene, whose owner is Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, claims that controller Lawrence Connell, appointed by the MFSA to take over the bank after the arrest of Hasheminejad in the United States, appointed the law firm Mamo TCV to assist him in his work.

But Alpene says that “in a move that has all the appearance of corruption”, the law firm was hired to benefit the incoming MFSA chairman John Mamo, one of the firm’s original founders. At the time of his appointment, Prof. Mamo was an honorary consultant to the firm; but the firm has denied the allegation.

Alpene has accused Connell of having “drained the bank of its assets and funnel substantial portions of those assets into Mamo TCV, the law firm of the MFSA’s incoming chairman, Prof. John Mamo.”

Alpene said it was Connell who hired the “conflicted” law firm on instruction of the MFSA, which was allegedly paid amounts far higher than the value of the work performed. “To make matters worse, the law firm’s senior lawyer engaged by Mr Connell was also a Board Member of HSBC Bank of Malta whose private banking platform was perhaps the only competitor to Pilatus Bank’s model.”

Alpene alleged Connell sold Pilatus’s assets, converted them into euros, turned over the liquid asstes to the Central Bank “and funnel substantial portions of the bank’s assets into the hands of corrupt officials… Alpene has been forced to watch as its investment is destroyed and pillaged.”

Alpene wants restitution and additional compensation and damages for the losses it has suffered, and has filed another case against the Maltese government in the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

Alpene’s lawyers said that back in August 2020, it sent a ‘cooling-off’ letter notifying the government of the impending dispute, which went unanswered. “Rather than meeting with Alpene in an attempt to resolve this dispute, Malta engaged in a series of allegedly retaliatory acts against Alpene’s investment, Pilatus Bank… Maltese officials threatened former Maltese staff and persons connected to the bank, who have direct and intimate knowledge of the alleged corruption of the Maltese officials, with criminal prosecution and political pressure,” counsel Edward Baldwin said.

The claim of corruption is repeated in its US dicovery case, and refers specifically to the appointment of Mamo TCV.

In a statement to MaltaToday, Mamo TCV Advocates has stated that all allegations regarding any fee sharing, consultancy or other arrangements between the firm and Professor John Mamo are entirely false.

“Prof. Mamo had not even been involved in the firm John Mamo & Associates when it merged with Tonna Camilleri & Vassallo in 2000, much less did he receive any remuneration or financial compensation in connection with the merger or in connection with any engagements that the firm was involved with after the merger took place. 

“As such, any reports linking the firm to Professor Mamo and alleging that he has a financial or any other interest in the firm are totally false.

“Insofar as allegations that we have seen in connection with the work we have carried out are concerned, we are restrained from commenting on any engagements undertaken by the firm by laws on professional secrecy. Nevertheless, we can confirm that we have always carried out all engagements in a professional manner and with the highest levels of integrity - as consistently recognised by our peers and clients throughout the years.”

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.

In December 2020, 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.

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.