The Malta Independent 21 November 2018, Wednesday

Nexia BT refuses to answer many PANA committee questions, citing legal issues

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 22 February 2017, 09:08 Last update: about 3 years ago

Nexia BT answered only a few of the written questions submitted by the EU Parliament’s PANA Committee, citing legal issues which prohibit it from providing the information requested.

The Malta Independent obtained a copy of the answers given by Nexia BT to the PANA committee, which met last Monday in Malta to investigate the Panama Papers scandal and Malta's financial services sector.

The names of Nexia BT directors Brian Tonna and Karl Cini were mentioned many a time in the Panama Papers, and were of primary importance due to both Minister Konrad Mizzi and OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri being their clients. Both Dr Mizzi and Mr Schembri opened companies in Panama run by a trust in New Zealand.

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Mr Tonna and Mr Cini refused the invitation to appear before the committee, instead offering to answer questions in writing. The Greens Party had provided many of the questions which were asked by the Committee in writing.

But Mr Tonna and Mr Cini said they could not reply to all the questions submitted.

“You will see that we are unable to reply to a number of your questions because, were we to do so, we would clearly be in breach of our obligations at law, both from a client confidentiality perspective as well as in terms of the anti-money laundering regime applicable to us as subject persons. We would have thought that this would have been considered in advance.” they said.

Questions they were not able to answer included whether Nexia BT is under investigation and whether they are aware of any clients being under an investigation.

In response to both of these, Nexia BT said: “We are precluded, under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering and Funding of Terrorism Regulations, from divulging any information relating to the existence or otherwise of any investigation. Were we to answer your question, we could be guilty of a tipping-off offence.”

Nexia BT said in response to other questions that Brian Tonna does not have a desk in the Office of the Prime Minister, and also that he has not been in business with OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri.

The company was asked about the relationship between Nexia BT or Brian Tonna and Mossack Fonseca Malta, whether Brian Tonna owns Mossack Fonseca Malta, whether Mr Tonna’s licensed fiduciary company hold shares in Mossack Fonseca Malta in a fiduciary capacity and/or on behalf of which ultimate beneficiaries, and whether BT International Ltd, owned by Mr Tonna, is the only shareholder of Mossack Fonseca Malta Ltd.

In response, Nexia said; “BT international Ltd held all of the shares in Mossack Fonseca & Co (Malta) Ltd in its capacity as a fiduciary services company, licensed by the Malta Financial Services Authority under the Trusts and Trustees Act. Our confidentiality obligations towards clients preclude us from divulging the identity of the clients on whose behalf shares are held. All of BT’s shares in Mossack Fonseca & Co (Malta) Ltd were transferred in April 2016.”

Asked why they shared information on the beneficial ownership of Egrant over Skype while they were sharing the beneficial ownership information on the entities created for Mizzi and Schembri by e-mail, as well as asked for the name of Egrant’s beneficial owner and to confirm whether this person is a PEP or not, Nexia BT said that they did not share such information by Skype or any other means of communication.  

They also stuck to their guns, stating that Egrant Inc was purchased by Nexia BT in July 2013 as a shelf company. “It has never had, and does not currently have, any client as ultimate beneficial owner, and it has never been active.” Nexia BT also said that they have communicated this through press inquiries in the past,

“We have always disclosed the facts surrounding the ownership of Egrant Inc. openly and, contrary to certain allegations being made in the press, we have never claimed professional secrecy in connection with Egrant Inc. Our replies to this same question have been, and remain, consistent and factual.”

 ‘We are precluded by law from answering any questions which relate to particular clients’

As for questions relating to Minister Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, Nexia BT grouped them and gave a general reply.

Such questions included whether the structure created for Minister Mizzi and respectively for OPM Chief of Staff Schembri raised any suspicion; whether they conducted enhanced customer due diligence when dealing with Minister Mizzi and Mr Schembri; why they chose not to set up the trusts in Malta, whether Nexia BT ever backdated any document related to the set-up of offshore structures for Minister Mizzi or Mr Schembri, etc.

“As a general reply to the questions, we are precluded by law from answering any questions which relate to particular clients. Should we disclose the information being requested below to the PANA Committee, we would be in breach of our client confidentiality obligations as well as our obligations under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering and Funding of Terrorism Regulations.

The PANA Committee also asked whether it is a usual practice of Nexia BT to provide comfort letters for their clients to certify they are trusted persons, whether they have done so with Minister Mizzi and Mr Schembri. “If yes, isn’t it contrary to your code of conduct to certify yourself one of your clients?”

In response, Nexia BT said that “as professionals and warrant holders, we are approached from time to time by our clients to provide character and professional references. We provide for clients we know well and hence have an in-depth understanding on which to base the content of these letters. We cannot divulge any specific information in this respect which relates to particular clients, for the reasons given above.”

 

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