Brian Tonna has not disputed the authenticity of a damning email published as part of The Daphne Project, which originated from his financial advisory firm Nexia BT.
After the email, obtained from a secret report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) was published, Lovin Malta sent a range of questions to Nexia BT owner Brian Tonna.
Tonna issued a coy response which nowhere disputed the veracity of the email or its contents – namely that two Dubai companies were supposed to pay €150,000 a month into the two Panama companies of Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
“As I have repeatedly stated, I am precluded from commenting on the matters mentioned in your email in light of my professional secrecy and client confidentiality obligations at law, as well as in view of the judicial proceedings which remain ongoing,” Tonna said. “I assure you that I have cooperated with the investigative authorities to the fullest extend and will continue to do so.”
What did The Daphne Project show?
1. In an email dated December 2015, Nexia BT’s partner Karl Cini referred to Mizzi’s and Schembri’s companies in the same breath. Cini said that both companies had been set up to conduct business around the world, from tourism projects in Asia to infrastructure projects in Africa and India. While this tallies with Schembri’s explanation that he had set up his offshore company to expand his private business interests, it contradicts Mizzi’s insistence that he had set up his structure for family planning.
2. Cini instructed Mossack Fonseca to set up bank accounts for the two companies at the Wintherbotham Merchant Bank in Nassau. He said both companies will receive around €150,000 monthly – mainly from two Dubai companies called 17 Black and Macbridge.
3. An FIAU report found that 17 Black had received at least three payments – one of €161,000 from Maltese local agent for the tanker supplying gas to the LNG power station and two separate payments amounting to €1.1 million from an unnamed Azeri national. The €1.1 million was wired through ABLV, a Latvian bank that was recently shut down by the European Central Bank for money laundering.
How did Mizzi and Schembri respond?
Mizzi and Schembri both said they never conducted any transactions with 17 Black. However, while Schembri said the Dubai company was included as a potential client in a draft business plan for his Kasco business, Mizzi insisted he had no connection with it whatsoever.
Mizzi also reiterated that his company had never traded or held a bank account, a statement which is technically correct but misleading. The leaks shows that Nexia BT had intended to set up bank accounts for the Panama companies in the Bahamas but halted the process in February 2016, soon after Daphne Caruana Galizia first started writing about the Panama Papers.
What did Lovin Malta ask Brian Tonna?
1. Can you confirm whether Konrad Mizzi and/or Keith Schembri gave NexiaBT the go ahead to list 17 Black and Macbridge as the target clients for their companies?
2. Konrad Mizzi has insisted that his offshore structures were intended only for family planning. Can you confirm or deny whether this is the case and explain why Karl Cini referenced Konrad Mizzi’s companies in the same breath as those of Keith Schembri in the said email?
3. Why did Nexia BT abruptly halt the process of trying to set up bank accounts in the Bahamas for these two companies in February 2016?
4. With hindsight, do you think it was appropriate for Nexia BT to be trying to open bank accounts in the Bahamas for two politically exposed persons? Doesn’t this implicate NexiaBT as an accomplice in potential money laundering and/or corruption?
5. Was Karl Cini acting with your consent in the emails published? And can you confirm whether the documents published are authentic?
6. The email also states that the Panama companies would be used as holding companies or operational companies investing or operating in recycling, remote gaming, infrastructure projects, maritime and fishery companies and tourism across the world. Could you clarify whether this description was provided by Keith Schembri and/or Konrad Mizzi or whether it was assumed by Nexia BT/Karl Cini?
7. Do you know who owns 17 Black and Macbridge in Dubai? Was NexiaBT in any way involved in these two companies?