The Malta Independent 20 August 2017, Sunday

Updated: PANA Committee Greens quiz Nexia BT on identity of Egrant, replies expected by Monday

Helena Grech Friday, 17 February 2017, 13:17 Last update: about 7 months ago

The Greens party at the European Parliament (EP) has contributed a set of questions to the inquiry committee on money laundering, tax avoidance and evasion, including questions to Nexia BT about who the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant is.

Nexia BT has given assurance that the extensive questions, which can be found below, will be replied to by Monday when the committee of inquiry, otherwise known as the PANA committee, will be meeting in Malta.

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Last year, No Portfolio Minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri were discovered to each hold a company in the secretive jurisdiction of Panama sheltered by a trust in New Zealand. This was done through the services of Nexia BT under Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, who have turned down an invitation to go before the committee in person, but accepted to answer questions in writing.

Egrant Inc is the third company set up by Nexia BT, the shareholder of Mossack Fonseca Malta, in addition to Hearnville (belonging to Dr Mizzi) and Tilgate (belonging to Mr Schembri). Mr Tonna is the man behind incorporating Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri’s Panamanian companies.  He has always insisted that Nexia BT’s shareholding of Mossack Fonseca has been purely on a fiduciary basis. Mr Tonna also insisted, last April, that Egrant is merely a shelf company.

Mossack Fonseca made international headlines after a massive leak to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists led to the publication of the financial dealings between the Panamanian based law firm and its clients. It uncovered how the world’s elite employed complicated financial structures to conceal their wealth, which is not technically illegal but gives rise to ethical questions.

The PANA committee today sent its questions to Nexia BT. Other questions relating to Egrant are as follows:

“Why did you share the information on beneficial ownership of Egrant by Skype while you were sharing the beneficial ownership information on the entities created for Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri by e-mail? What was the precise reason for this difference in procedure?

“Have you shared the information on beneficial ownership of the company Egrant with the police or any other relevant authority in Malta?”

Leaked e-mails from Mossack Fonseca exposed the ultimate beneficial ownership of Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi’s companies. It also exposed how Dr Mizzi was in the process of trying to acquire an offshore bank account in several jurisdictions. In the leaked correspondence, banks in Miami, Panama and Dubai had said Dr Mizzi would need to deposit a minimum of $1 million dollars. Mr Karl Cini wrote back to a particular bank giving the "go ahead", however the leaked e-mails stopped there. How Dr Mizzi planned to deposit this has not been revealed, despite being repeatedly questioned by the press.

Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri have denied any wrongdoing, with the former claiming to set up such complicated structures for “estate planning” for his family.

Greens MEP and Pana Committee member Sven Giegold said:

"It is welcome that Konrad Mizzi has today finally assured his participation. Unfortunately, the confirmation of Mr. Schembri is still missing. A no-show would be disrespect towards European democracy, even during the Maltese presidency of the Council. It is unfortunate that Brian Tonna and Nexia BT have so far refused their appearance. The committee will discuss at a later stage which consequences we draw from this failure to appear. In any case we expect complete and honest answers to our written questions.

The rest of the questions sent to Nexia BT through the Greens party contribution are as follows:

“General:

“Are you under investigation? If yes for which reasons?

“Are you aware that any of your clients are under investigation?

“What is the relationship between Nexia BT or Brian Tonna and Mossack Fonseca Malta? Does Brian Tonna, own Mossack Fonseca Malta? Does Mr Tonna’s licensed fiduciary company hold shares in Mossack Fonseca Malta in a fiduciary capacity and/or on behalf of which ultimate beneficiaries?

“Can you confirm that BT International Ltd, owned by Mr Tonna, is the only shareholder of Mossack Fonseca Malta Ltd?

“How many suspicious transaction reportings has your company filed since 2000 until 2016. Please, specify for each individual year.

“What is the involvement of your company in the gaming industry? Could you explain your business model in this field and give key figures of your potential involvement? If you are acting as a consultant/service provider in the gaming industry, are you aware of any issue with money laundering and if yes, please specify.

“Can you confirm that Brian Tonna has a desk in the office of the prime minister? If yes, don’t you think there is a possible conflict of interest given that Mr Tonna has been in business with Mr Schembri, chief of staff of the Maltese Prime Minister?

“ABOUT MIZZI & SCHEMBRI

“Did the structure created for Mizzi and respectively for Schembri raise any suspicion? Please, explain for each case your reasoning why it did raise or not raise your suspicion.

“What was the economic rationale for the set up arranged for Mizzi and Schembri respectively?

“What was the rationale not to create the trusts in Malta?

“Have you conducted enhanced customer due diligence when dealing with Mizzi, Schembri and the beneficial owner of EGRANT? Please, answer on each case separately.

“Have you filed a suspicious transaction report when dealing with Mizzi, Schembri or in the case of EGRANT? Please, answer to each case separately and specify the reason in each case separately why such a suspicious transaction report was made or not made.

“Were you asked by any foreign demands, such as a mutual legal assistance request, to provide beneficial ownership information in the context of the companies created for Mizzi or Schembri or the case of EGRANT? If yes, please specify in which case and for which foreign actor."

ABOUT BRIAN TONNA AND KARL CINIi:

“Was Mr. Brian Tonna aware that the prime minister, Mizzi and Schembri travelled to Baku/Azerbaijan before this fact was published? If yes, was this a reason for suspicion for a risk of illegal activities or of money laundering?

“Have you ever backdated any document related to the set-up of offshore structures for Mr Mizzi or Mr Schembri?

“Mr Mizzi’s trust in New Zealand has for objective ‘recycling and remote gaming’. Has this ever raised suspicion to Nexia BT given Mr Mizzi’s role as Minister for Energy?

“Is it a usual practice of Nexia BT to provide comfort letters for their clients to certify they are trusted person? Have you done so with Mr Mizzi and Mr Schembri? If yes, isn’t it contrary to your code of conduct to certify yourself one of your clients?”

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