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Why Did Pilatus Bank’s Iranian Owner Use St. Kitts CBI Passports?

June 28, 2024

Kenneth Rijock
Given the unfolding scandal regarding the illegal use of St. Kitts CBI passports, we are again asking the hard questions about one of the Federation’s most notorious Iranian holders of its tools allowing visa-free entry into the EU, UK and the Commonwealth of Nations. Let’s revisit the story.

Questions have been raised as to precisely why Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, the owner of Malta’s notorious (and now shuttered) money laundering financial institution, Pilatus Bank, chose to employ one of his four St. Kitts & Nevis Citizenship by Investment (CBI) passports when applying for a banking license? Compliance officers will recall that the American regulator FinCEN had warned, in a sharply worded Advisory, that SKN CBI passports were “attractive to illicit actors, ” and therefore high-risk for financial institutions and other agencies. The SKN passport acquired even more notoriety when an obvious non-diplomat showed up in Canada with a diplomatic passport, seeking admission, and sputtering some nonsense about how he was going to see the Prime Minister.

After that Canada basically redlined SKN nationals and passport holders. If St. Kitts was a known international problem, why on earth would Ali Sadr select it for both his EU bank application, and as an identifier when opening bank accounts in Switzerland and Turkey, claiming that he was a resident of Dubai, UAE? That is the issue. Add to the mystery is the fact that he most certainly could have gone to a less controversial jurisdiction. In truth and in fact, the only other Iranian national who was an officer or director at Pilatus, Hamidreza Ghanbari, had a CBI passport issued by the Commonwealth of Dominica, and not St. Kitts. Why was this the case, we wonder aloud?

One possible reason is that, amongst his four SKN passports, all of which were reportedly valid, is one that we understand contained permission to enter the UK visa-free. Although all St Kitts passport holders as a group have that right, we have to assume that he wanted to ensure that he would never be stopped, questioned, and possibly searched, when arriving at Heathrow. Remember, the bank “branch” that he set up, located inside a front company facility on Old Park Lane in the upscale Mayfair district, appears to have been little more than a funnel for moving illicit cash. Perhaps he feared being searched by UK Customs, whilst carrying suspicious and large financial instruments that violated UK law.

Alternatively, he may have created an ironclad front, regarding his business origins, in St. Kitts, with the artful assistance of a consultancy, that could withstand routine due diligence inquiries at those Swiss and Turkish banks that he opened accounts at. In any event, we would most certainly like to see what is on file in Basseterre. Hopefully, the unfolding scandal in Malta’s courts, regarding that country’s refusal to move forward with money laundering charges against Ali Sadr, might eventually provide answers to our question.
Kenneth Rijock is a financial crime consultant. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the field of money laundering, as a practicing “laundryman,” financial compliance consultant, and trainer/lecturer to law and intelligence agencies including the FBI.  Read more of Ken’s work here.