The Malta Independent 8 May 2021, Saturday

Enough evidence for Brian Tonna and associates to be indicted

Thursday, 15 April 2021, 08:49 Last update: about 22 days ago

There are sufficient grounds for Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Manuel Castagna and Katrin Bondin Carter to face trial under a bill of indictment, a magistrate has ruled.

The four face charges of money laundering and other financial crimes in relation to inquiries involving former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri. They are pleading not guilty.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech ruled that there was enough prima facie evidence for a bill of indictment to be issued. The acts of the case will now be sent to the Attorney General.

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The ruling came at the end of today's sitting, during which police officers and bank officials presented their findings on the accounts and money transfers involving the accused.

Police officers from the Financial Crimes Investigation Department listed a series of transactions, involving thousands and sometimes millions of euros, connected to the four accused as well as offshore companies to their name.

Police also traced money funnelled from the Kasco Group that belongs to Schembri.

The four were charged alongside seven other people, including Schembri, last month over various financial crimes.

All have been given bail as the cases against them continue.

11:23 That's it for today. Thank you for following.

11:23 The next sitting is on 25 May and then on 3 June between 10am and 3pm.

11:18 The court asks if there is contestation of prima facie. There is none and the court asks the accused to stand up. Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech decrees that there are sufficient grounds for a bill of indictment to be issued against the accused and the acts of the case are to be sent to the Attorney General.

11:17 The prosecution says it has no more witnesses today.


11:16 Miriam Azzopardi from the Malta Stock Exchange says the only information found was on Karl Cini. A representative of the Public Registry testifies next. She presents 11 documents resulting from searches on the accused and the companies.

11:08 Joseph Saliba from JobsPlus takes the stand and presents employment histories for Tonna, Castagna, Cini and Bondin Carter. He also presents the court with copies of lists of the employees of their companies.

11:07 Debono says that he was not engaged to audit the companies. He checked for tax filings. No assessments were found in the searches he did.

11:05 Debono presents tax returns filed by Brian Tonna for the years 2015-2019. Similar returns are presented for Manuel Castagna.

The tax official says that Bondin Carter's income was listed with her spouse's on their joint tax declaration.

11:04 He says that SPX Services Ltd and Willerby Ltd are not registered in Malta for tax purposes. Both companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands.

11:04 He presents tax returns for BT International Ltd between 2015 and 2019. Tax returns for KBT between 2016 and 2019 are also presented. An estimate was carried out for 2020.

Tax returns for Nexia BT between 2016 and 2018 are presented, while an estimate was filed for 2019.

Debono continues presenting tax filings for Nexia BT Advisory Services and BTI Management Ltd.

 

10:56 Joseph Debono from the Tax Department testifies next.

10:55 Galdes steps off the witness stand.

10:55 She says that Manuel Castagna had three property transfers to his name, while Karl Cini had two and Katrin Bondin Carter had five property transfers. She lists other share allotments for some of the companies in which the accused are involved.

10:52 Josette Galdes, director of Capital Transfer Duty, takes the stand next. She presents information on the accused and several companies related to them. Nothing was found on Nexia BT, Willerby and several other companies.

On Brian Tonna, she says, there are five causa mortis transfers, eight share transfers, three allotment of shares and 10 property transfers.

10:51 Another witness, Raymond Formosa, from Lombard Bank takes the stand and exhibits the know your client (KYC) form and account information relating to Brian Tonna, who is still a customer of the institution he is representing.

10:47 BT international Ltd was known as a shareholder of Headway. Nexia BT was known as a business referrer. The account belonging to Headway was inactive as was another one belonging to BTI.

10:38 A representative of Sparkasse Bank says that none of the accused held accounts with the bank. Its business relationship with Nexia BT was a business referrer. Brian Tonna was corporate director of Headway Holding and the company had an account that closed in 2015.

10:37 The magistrate warns the remaining witnesses that if they have similar problems to inform the court.

10:37 Jan Camilleri from Me Direct takes the stand. He was asked to provide information on various companies and individuals. Brian Tonna was involved in Eximus, Spectrum Malta Ltd, BTA Holding Limited and another company which held accounts at Me Direct. The relationship between the companies and the bank was terminated on different dates.

Date of termination of banking relationships with Me Direct: Spectrum Malta on 15 June 2018, Eximus on 20 March 2017 and BT Holdings 27 February 2017.

Camilleri presents the court with another password protected CD.

The magistrate says she wants a hard copy and a non-password protected CD.

 

10:24 "The court cannot be expected to number each and every document in the reams of paperwork being presented to it," the magistrate says.

10:22 There appears to be a problem with the way the documentary evidence is being presented. "I want more order," the court says.

10:22 He has documents relating to accounts held by Caroline Tonna, Brian Tonna, Manuel Castagna, Karl Cini, Marie Catherine Bondin Carter, KPG Holdings Ltd, BT International Holdings Ltd and Nexia BT. Spiteri presents the documents in separate boxes.

10:17 David Spiteri from HSBC takes the stand. In all cases the witnesses are being exempted from professional secrecy by the court.

10:16 She says there was no information on the accused and any accounts had long been closed. She said the bank would need more time to retrieve any information from its archives. She steps off the stand.

10:14 Micallef was requested to provide information about the accused.

10:13 Rebecca Micallef from APS takes the stand.

10:12 The bank had been requested to provide cheque images. The court observes that the files provided are password protected. There is no need for this, says the magistrate as the documents are to be seen by all the parties. The man is ordered to take the CDs back and remove the password protection.

10:10 Silvio Chetcuti from BOV takes the stand next.

10:10 Magistrate: "No more reading from reports."

10:04 Lawyer Matthew Xuereb for Manuel Castagna asks if the witness had analysed other accounts and not just the ones that belonged to BTI Management Ltd. He hadn't.

10:03 The witness has finished reading his report.

10:03 The witness says that Black Rock received five payments from five people totalling €14 million.

10:02 He cites more figures and names: Black Rock Energy Agency, Mossack, Nexia, EXIMUS Business Malta Ltd, Shanghai Energy...

The magistrate intervenes, telling the witness the report is self-explanatory and he does not need to read through it all.

09:53 The witness continues to list transactions. There were over 400 transactions to 75 persons in Malta and abroad.

09:51 The court orders the witness to stop reading the report as it is duplicating matters. She orders the man exhibit the report. AG lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo says he is explaining the tables in the report.

09:50 Brian Tonna received 117 cheques, totalling €160,000, Karl Cini €185,000, Manuel Castagna €46,000, Oliver Zammit €300,000+, Katrin Bondin Carter €12,000.

09:49 The officer is speed reading through the transactions. One transaction from Nexia BT was labelled "internal transfer Adrian Hillman".

Other transactions mentioned: Four transactions originating from Eximus Ltd, 30 transactions came from Waahat Services Ltd and four transactions totalling nearly €400,000 originating from third parties.

There were transactions of over €700,000 originating from Zenith.

 

09:40 A number of credit cards were analysed, some in the name of Brian Cini, and others in the names of Oliver Zammit, Karl Cini, Philip Tissot and Oliver Said.

09:39 The police officer says that BTI Management Ltd had seven accounts which were reduced to four accounts. An account was closed in 2015. There was no activity in a saving accounts held in USD. There was another dormant account which was closed in August 2016.

09:39 Tonna, Cini and Castagna were directors at BTI Management Ltd. Castagna resigned in December 2020.

09:36 He says the information was provided by Bank of Valletta and was categorised according to deposits, cheque withdrawals, legal persons, natural persons and other categories.

09:33 A police constable from the FCID takes the stand next. He was part of the task force and was engaged to analyse BTI Management Ltd's bank accounts.

09:31 The defence exempts the prosecution from the need to translate the documents from English to Maltese. This applies also to any witness or document heard or presented in the inquiry.

09:30 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech orders the witness to give a copy of the documents he is reading from to the parties.

09:29 He says that Nexia BT received almost 1,300 transactions from companies related to Nexia BT and the Kasco Group. Over €1 million in transactions came from BT International Ltd; €3 million from BT management and €60,000 from Nexia BT Projects. Nexia received almost €8 million in intracompany transactions and its bank accounts showed €2.1 million in such transactions related to Nexia and the Kasco Group.

09:28 The witness says that Willerby Trading, whose ultimate beneficial owner (UBO) is Tonna had a corresponding bank account with €609,000 in it. When more information was requested from the bank, it resulted €200,000 were transferred to Karl Cini and €200,000 to Castagna as dividends. This happened in 2016.

09:25 The witness says that BT International Limited received almost €130,000 from Entimus Business Middleast (UAE). The amount was forwarded to MFSP and then a portion was transacted to BT international Ltd.

Supporting documents provided by MFSP show this payment was related to consultation.

During the inquiry, a separate invoice was found issued to Eximus Middle East Ltd registered in India. This was to the amount of $150,000 and the payment appears to have been made on the basis of SPX Services Ltd.

 

09:24 The witness continues to list a series of transactions. There were transactions to MFSP and seven personal cheques were issued to Brian Tonna and others in favour of Keith Schembri.

09:23 Schembri says that there was a client account, however, the client's activities were minimal. Most of the transactions were between companies. There were two transactions from Malmos Ltd, they originated from a bank in Gibraltar, and amounted to almost €28,000. There were seven transactions from MFSP to this account.

Another nine transactions came from companies which form part of Nexia BT, including KBT Holdings.

There were three transactions to companies which form part of Kasco Group including Three Cities Design.

09:18 He says that over €425,000 were in the account of KBT Holdings. The money came from MFSP, today known as Zenith. "It isn't clear how the transactions were made," the witness says. The owners of Zenith are also facing money laundering charges related to the same case.

09:16 Financial Crimes Investigation Department manager Emmanuel Schembri is testifying about a report based on BOV accounts used by Nexia BT.

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