The Malta Independent 11 December 2017, Monday

Panama Papers: Former PN minister Ninu Zammit, MFA President, Louis Farrugia on list

Monday, 9 May 2016, 21:12 Last update: about 3 years ago

Former PN Minister Ninu Zammit’s name is among the list of Maltese names found in the Panama Papers revealed tonight. His company, which was called Fiveolive Services Inc, was incorporated by Mossack Fonseca on 23 February 2005 in the British Virgin Islands and was struck off on November 2015, a few months after The Malta Independent’s partnership with ICIJ revealed that the Swiss Leaks contained his secret Swiss bank account under the name of Nester trade Inc. 

Ninu Zammit hid US$3.2 million in a secret Swiss HSBC bank account, which he maintained through annual visits to Switzerland while he was still a Cabinet member. Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had said that Mr Zammit had been suspended from the party in connection with the Swiss leaks bank account revealed by The Malta Independent.

MFA President Norman Darmanin Demajo is also among the Maltese people mentioned in the Panama Papers, as being a shareholder in an active British Virgin Islands company called Street Nine Market Ltd, with the address being registered in Greece. He is also listed as having been a shareholder in the two following companies, which have been dissolved: Sawasdee International Ltd, and Denver Global Ltd. Both were based in the British Virgin Islands. The registered address for these two companies however, is not in Malta, but in the BVI.

When contacted, Mr Darmanin Demajo said that as part of his profession as an accountant he is a director and shareholder in a number of companies, including a few in the British Virgin Islands. While confirming Street Nine Market Ltd, he could not remember without a doubt the names of the the other two, but did say that they rang a bell, but it was taking him back a number of years. 

Allied Group non-executive Director Louis Farrugia is also named in the Panama Papers as intermediary of now dissolved company Petrofina Holdings S.A.

Mr Farrugia is Chairman of the Farsons Group and is involved in other commercial ventures. Petrofina was struck off in 2007, well before he was appointed as Chairman of Air Malta and the Malta Tourism Authority. 

In a statement, Mr Farrugia said that the firm had been declared to the Central Bank and was intended to house a UK property. "I was advised at the time by a reputable London firm of solicitors to own the property through a Panamanian company," he said. "The company was never used for any other purpose."

"I do not own any shares in any overseas company nor have any beneficial interest in any overseas trust," he said.

FZD-Trustee & Fiduciary Services Limited, an entity previously linked with PN MP Francis Zammit Dimech, has been included in the Panama Papers database too.

Dr Zammit Dimech has denied having any ties with the company at this point, and stressed that a distinction needs to be made between lawyers offering fiduciary and trustee services to clients, and people seeking to open up companies in secretive jurisdiction due to a personal interest.

The company is permitted, by virtue of the Maltese Financial Services Authority, to offer a complete spectrum of Trustee and Fiduciary services to local and international clients alike.

In comments to this newsroom, Dr Zammit Dimech said:

“At this stage I have absolutely no link with the company, because that company was changed into another company in which I have no participation at all.

“In any case, the trustee is a company set up in terms of the MFSA act, registered with the MFSA precisely to do the opposite of what people like Konrad Mizzi [no-portfolio Minister] and Keith Schembri [the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff] have done, because it was set up to offer a service to foreign clients wishing to do business in Malta through a nominee structure.

“This is the direct opposite of what Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri have done. In any case, we are talking of a legal firm offering a service to clients, there was no involvement on my part or on the part of any lawyer linked with the firm as having any personal interest in a foreign jurisdiction.

“This is the most important distinction – if we do not make this distinction, we are going to start equating lawyers who appear in court to defend with the person who has committed the crime.

“This is completely absurd, the fact that the Labour Party is trying to make an issue proves the desperate situation. They have clear proof that the most trusted Minister within the Government Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff have themselves opened up secret companies in Panama to place those companies, enveloped in a New Zealand trust, and searched to open a bank account with nine different banks – for them, by them.

“I reiterate, even if I had links with the company there would be nothing legally wrong. This can be verified with the MFSA. In addition to this, the company was never set up when I occupied a Ministerial post.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists made data on 200,000 entities available on Monday.

The data cache, first leaked to Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily, showed offshore holdings of 12 current and former world leaders. Reports based on the documents quickly led to the resignation of Iceland's Prime Minister David Gunnlaugson after it was revealed he and his wife had set up a company in the British Virgin Islands that had holdings in Iceland's failed banks. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for financial transparency, faced questions about shares he once held in an offshore trust set up by his father. The ICIJ reported that associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin moved some $2 billion through such companies. Putin's spokesman dismissed the report.

There are legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts. The ICIJ says that it does not intend to suggest or imply that any persons, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.

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