Iranian national who owned a bank in Malta indicted in US for sanctions avoidance and money laundering

By Christine Duhaime | March 30th, 2018

An Iranian foreign national named Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, was arrested following an indictment in New York for allegedly running a scheme to defraud banks, avoid US sanctions and launder proceeds of crime. Nejad was the Chairman of a bank in Malta called Pilatus Bank. The US DoJ alleged that the Pilatus Bank was financed with proceeds of crime. If the allegations are true, they clearly must not have had an AML officer on staff.

According to the indictment, Nejad washed $115 million from a Venezuelan company to an Iranian company through the US financial system under a construction contract in violation of US sanctions, and set up corporate entities in Dubai, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Switzerland and Turkey to obfuscate beneficial ownership, and in particular, to hide that Iranian foreign nationals were behind the companies as shareholders. He did this, according to the indictment, by using other passports that did not tie him to Iran and did not inform bankers that he was an Iranian foreign national.

Despite being an Iranian foreign national and high risk for sanctions avoidance, the media in Malta reported that Nejad obtained a bank licence in Malta for the Pilatus Bank less than 30 days after applying – likely the world record in obtaining a bank licence, which usually takes 2 years to obtain. In this recent FinTech article, a Euro bank magazine quotes Nejad talking about “trust” and reputation in banking.

Nejad is a Maltese and Iranian PEP with, according to media articles, ties to Mehdi Shamszadeh, an Iranian foreign national who ran the Iranian government’s shipping agency called the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, which was later subject to US sanctions. Shamszadeh was sentenced to death in Iran following a conviction for defrauding Iran through financial crimes.

In this clip hashtagged #arroganza, Nejad, in imperfect English, tells a reporter that he or she “better learn some English to ask some questions.” In this clip, Nejad is asked by reporters about banking an account that the reporters allege engages in money laundering.

In 2004, Nejad claimed refugee status in the US on the alleged grounds that he would be prosecuted by Iran if he returned. He was granted refugee status in the US and then once granted, returned to Iran after getting a green card.

Nejad is what is called a dual passport holder. He could only have returned to Iran with a valid Iranian passport which meant that he updated his Iranian passport from the US and returned to Iran as an Iranian foreign national in 2010. You cannot get an a passport renewed in Iran if the Iranian government is aware that the person claimed refugee status in the US. It suggests Nejad misrepresented himself to two governments – the US and Iran – for immigration purposes and to travel internationally. Nejad also has no less than 4 passports from St. Kitts and Nevis. To return to Iran, Iranians typically fly to Dubai on their “new” passport from the US, UK, Germany or Canada, then switch passports to their Iranian passport in Dubai and fly to Iran on Iranian passports so that they can enter the country.

A reporter in Malta, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who had written about the Pilatus Bank, was assassinated in Malta in October of 2017. She was being sued by Nejad.

A good article about how Iranians use the dual passport system is here, with several examples of sanctioned Iranians living in Canada (primarily Vancouver) using Canadian-issued travel documents.

Here is the Offshore Leaks page on Nejad.

Comments are closed.