Huge developments are underway in the United States which could have serious implications for Malta… at least that’s what one former-money-launderer-turned-FBI informant strongly suspects.
Kenneth Rijock has been meticulously following the USA’s case against Ali Sadr Hasheminejad, the former Pilatus Bank owner who was charged in New York with evading US sanctions against Iran.
And although Ali Sadr is now a free man, having been saved from a prison cell at the eleventh hour, Rijock suspects that his case is merely the tip of a massive iceberg which is tied to the recent death of a prisoner at Kordin and which could culminate in the indictment of a number of Maltese Cabinet officials in the United States.
It sounds like an extraordinary story, but then again Rijock is testament to just how extraordinary life can be.
First of all, who is Kenneth Rijock?
Once a bank lawyer, Rijock spent several years acting as a middleman between Colombian drug cartels and US and Cuban distributors.
Disguised as a tourist, he would travel to the Caribbean with wads of cash, laundering an estimated $200 million in dirty cash over ten years.
“I had served in Vietnam and Cambodia, and after those experiences I found my life as a lawyer boring,” he explained to The Financial Times. “Over time, I realised that many Vietnam veterans were working in the drug industry or in law enforcement. They were people who liked the risk, like me.”
Rijock was arrested in 1990 and was eventually jailed after his client testified against him, but the lawyer turned money launderer managed to reduce his sentence by going undercover for the FBI and helping them seize dirty money his clients had moved to Switzerland.
Now working as a financial crime consultant and a compliance officer specialising in enhanced due diligence, Rijock runs his own blog focusing on financial crime, and his eyes have recently turned to Malta.
Ali Sadr Hasheminejad: Victim of a shoddy prosecution?
Rijock has been following the US government’s case against Ali Sadr with keen eyes, keeping Malta informed of all the latest developments.
The Pilatus Bank owner was arrested at a Virginia airport in March 2018 and charged with evading US sanctions on Iran by funnelling over $115 million between 2011 and 2013 from a low-income housing project in Venezuela that the South American country had entrusted to his father’s company.
Bahram Karimi, the project manager of the Venezuela project, was also charged.
Following this indictment, Maltese authorities and the European Central Bank moved to withdraw Pilatus Bank’s license.
Sadr and Karimi were found guilty by jury in March this year and was due to be sentenced in August, but federal prosecutors suddenly withdrew their case against him in June, citing the likelihood of continued litigation over the suppression of evidence that arose after his trial.
His defence lawyers said that this evidence included a recorded government interview of the Iranian construction company’s project who shared Sadr’s view of the sanctions and who told prosecutors that neither he nor anyone associated with the project did anything wrong.
It also included witness statements of a senior Venezuelan finance official who emphatically denied doing anything wrong and who told prosecutors that lawyers had vetted the concerned transactions before he approved them.
Moreover, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) decided not to pursue Sadr or the intermediary banks involved, despite having full knowledge of the prosecutors’ allegations and theory of prosecution.
And when prosecutors realised in the middle of the trial that an important document, related to Commerzbank’s role in transferring the funds, had not been disclosed to the defence, one of the prosecutors sent his colleague a message proposing to “bury it in some other documents”, to which his colleague responded “that’s fine”.
The US Attorney’s Office in New York insisted that the word ‘buried’ was taken out of context, arguing that the document was not buried and was indeed produced less than 24 hours later.
“The government disclosed [the document] within one day after realising it had not been previously disclosed; and we do not believe any of the attorneys on the case recognised any exculpatory value of this exhibit to the defence until the defence itself raised the issue,” the Office wrote.
On 17th July, the US court dismissed the indictment against Sadr and Bahrimi, vacated the jury’s verdict and suggested it could investigate failures from the prosecution’s side. Ali Sadr, now a free man, said he is considering seeking compensation based on the US government’s misconduct.
Chapter closed? It would certainly seem so at first glance, but Rijock has warned that the freedom of Ali Sadr is the mere tip of the iceberg.
Last Friday, Rijock revealed that sealed documents had just been placed in the vault in connection with the Ali Sadr case, raising questions as to whether the case had actually been concluded.
Citing an anonymous source, he said a sealed indictment exists, which should make “certain present and former government officials in Malta and Dominica sit up, take notice and start auditioning experienced criminal defense attorneys admitted to practice before the US District Court in Manhattan.”
“Why is the indictment sealed, you ask?” he wrote. “Well, if the individuals who are listed as party defendants knew that there were criminal charges pending against them in an American court, which might result in long terms in Federal Prison, even up to a Life Sentence, they probably would flee to avoid arrest and prosecution.”
“Given that all of them are outside the United States, which would require extradition proceedings, they could quickly relocate to a country with no extradition treaty, and evade justice, so the indictment will remain sealed until and unless they are in US custody. It will be unsealed when the individual defendants make their First Appearance before a US Magistrate Judge. That will be an unpleasant surprise, to be sure.”
Rijock told Lovin Malta that he strongly suspects the US government dropped charges against Ali Sadr because the banker must have contributed indispensable information in relation to a much more serious case or cases.
“This is probably bigger than anything most of us have seen in our lifetime,” he said.
“It’s extraordinary that the government dropped a case it had won, which leads me to believe that this is just an excuse when they have actually obtained dynamite evidence from him which would lead to the arrest of other people.”
“It doesn’t matter how serious [the prosecution’s] violations were, they should at least ask that [Sadr and Barimi] do some time. This is unusual, and the only thing I think of is that they must have spoken about some very prominent people or given the US access to millions of dollars of dirty money.”
Reno Mifsud’s death in prison raises questions
Besides Ali Sadr, Rijock’s interest in Malta in recent weeks circled around the case of Reno Mifsud, a Maltese national who had been wanted by the US for sexually assaulting minors for the past 33 years.
Mifsud had migrated to the US and enlisted as a soldier when he was young but fled to Malta before he could face trial for the alleged sexual assault of two boys, aged 15 and 12.
After over three decades on the run, Maltese police arrested him in his St Paul’s Bay home last month, initiating his potential extradition process to the US.
“Why is the United States just now seeking his extradition after 33 years?” Rijock questioned after his arrest. “Could it possibly be related to the potential extradition of a number of present or former Maltese leaders, and others, to the United States, on money laundering and RICO (Racketeering) charges?”
“A close look at Mifsud’s extradition documents shows that they were issued back in 2017. Since we know that Malta’s current treaty with the United States has permitted extradition since 2006, we can see no reason why the US waited until now to enforce it, unless there is another agenda; to ascertain whether Malta’s notoriously ineffective and politically influenced courts will indeed allow extradition in a timely manner.”
However, his theory that the US wanted to use Mifsud’s case to observe Malta’s justice system at work ahead of more serious extradition requests will never be tested in practice.
On Tuesday, Mifsud died after he allegedly committed suicide in his prison cell. According to Manuel Delia, he was found hanging by a neck tie.
“Now that Mifsud has been dispatched, there will be no test case, and that cannot be a coincidence,” Rijock wrote afterwards.
“Did the same powerful forces in Malta that ordered the car bombing of the country’s most prominent whistle blower [Daphne Caruana Galizia] kill Mifsud?”
“We cannot say, but if true, Malta is surely well on its way to becoming Europe’s first Gangster State, where evil abides, and truth hides. Perhaps Malta’s elite need to read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament. The future is coming fast.”
‘A special money laundering case focusing solely on Malta’
On Sunday, Rijock returned with some more titbits from his secret sources, with the caveat that the information has not been independently confirmed and may be incomplete or contain errors.
He said there is more than one pending indictment, that one case involves eight high-profile targets including Cabinet-level Maltese officials and that one case involves criminal activity surrounding Malta’s Individual Investor Program.
Rijock later said that two Maltese Cabinet members are actively cooperating with law enforcement agencies from two foreign countries, possibly because they are seeking a plea deal or immunity from prosecution.
“Now, you should understand why two of your partners in crime have chosen to cooperate, rather than fight, and you might want to consider joining them early on, while you still can,” he said.
Then on Tuesday, he cited an “extremely reliable” source as stating there are now 33 major crime suspects in a special money laundering investigation that is focusing solely on Malta. Out of these, 13 have been identified as elected officials or their immediate subordinates, all of whom are currently employed by the government.
Rijock said the evidence reportedly implicates the targets in money laundering, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization, and providing material support for terrorism.
And yesterday, he said two Western European counties are now investigating money laundering in Malta, and that one of the European countries “has a longer list of suspects among Malta’s government officials” than the US and the other EU state.
While the information is extremely blurry at this stage, Rijock noted that US money laundering legislation allows the country to extradite non-citizens and prosecute them in the US for crimes which utilised US dollars or the US banking system.
In an interview with Manuel Delia, he envisaged a “nightmare scenario” for a Maltese national who could go on holiday to the US and find himself arrested at the airport, charged with money laundering and offered a plea deal by the US government in return for spilling the beans on other people.
“The long arm of US law enforcement extends globally and knows no limits,” he explained.