UK Branch of Pilatus Bank Closed Down

Published: 26 April 2018

Credit: REUTERS/Darrin Zammit LupiCredit: REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

By Jelter Meers

Pilatus Bank closed down its UK branch after investigative journalists revealed that dozens of companies owned by Azerbaijan’s ruling elite had moved millions of euros through the bank.

The Malta Independent published a letter on Tuesday that CEO of the Bank of England Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), Sam Woods, has sent to Maltese politician David Casa. It says that Pilatus Bank informed Woods’ institution that it closed its London branch.

Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia exposed how Pilatus Bank was involved in a 1 million euro (US$ 1,211,300) transfer to a company based in Panama believed to belong to the wife of Malta’s prime minister.

End of last year, Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb. Her colleagues took over her investigations and are working to finish what she had started.

The Daphne Project revealed that more than 50 companies owned by the ruling elite of Azerbaijan moved millions of euros using Pilatus Bank. The reporters found in Pilatus Bank files that the network used accounts of the bank to hide profits and invest millions of dollars into new ventures.

The children of Azerbaijan’s two most powerful politicians used offshore companies and trusts to cover investments in luxury properties, businesses and high-end hotels across Europe and the Middle East.

Investments include one of the biggest conglomerates in Azerbaijan, a five-star hotel, three dozen luxury properties in Dubai, linen factories and properties in Spain and Georgia.

All parties involved have denied any wrongdoing and authorities started an inquiry into the network and allegations on April 20, 2017.

Pilatus’ former chairman Seyed Ali Sadr was arrested in the United States in March 2018 and could be sentenced up to 125 years over circumventing US sanctions on Iran, money laundering and fraud.

The PRA told Casa that Pilatus had established a branch in the UK and had received a freedom of services passport, which means home-state authorities, in this case Malta’s Financial Services Authority (MFSA), are responsible for its regulation.

MFSA recently issued directives that require Pilatus to seek approval before moving bank assets, which the PRA said it was following closely together with the FCA.