Nexia BT and visa concessionaires paid €10,000 on each application

Firm implicated in Panama Papers scandal in Malta is one of four concessionaires selling Malta Visa and Residence Programme

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Matthew Vella
12 July 2017, 6:58am
Brian Tonna, Nexia BT managing partner
Brian Tonna, Nexia BT managing partner
The audit firm thrust into the limelight of the Panama Papers – Nexia BT – is paid €10,000 for each successful applicant under the Malta Visa and Residence Programme as official concessionaire for the Middle East.

In 2016, Nexia BT was revealed to have set up three offshore Panama companies – one for tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, one for OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri, and a third, Egrant, which is now the subject of a magisterial inquiry after the Prime Minister refused allegations that his wife was its beneficiary owner.

But in August 2016, the audit firm – whose managing partner Brian Tonna has close links with Keith Schembri – was made a concessionaire following a public competition launched back in November 2015.

The concession was regulated under the Concession Review Board regulations, a board set up in 2015 to rule on complaints against concessions granted by ministers to private companies.

No appeals were lodged by the competing companies.

The Malta Visa and Residence Programme has the same accredited agents as the Individual Investor Programme, Malta’s scheme for the sale of citizenship, but has different concessionaires.

The concessionaires are Shanghai Overseas Exit Entry Services for China, Hong Kong and Macao, Discus Holdings for Russia and Turkey, Henley & Partners for South Africa, and Nexia BT for the Middle East.

Henley & Partners is also the concessionaire for the IIP, who are paid 4% on every standard €650,000 application for Maltese passports, and another 4% on the mandatory €150,000 and €350,000 investments in stocks and property as required by the IIP rules.

Discus Holdings is also one of the six concessionaires under the Hungarian Residency Bond Program.

Nexia BT announced news that it had become a concessionaire on 5 July 2017.

An ongoing magisterial inquiry is investigating allegations of kickbacks made by Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, that Brian Tonna gave to Keith Schembri over the sale of IIP passports. The claim originates from a preliminary report made by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit to the police back in 2016, when it suspected that a €100,000 payment from Tonna to Schembri in his Pilatus bank account, was effected soon after Tonna was paid by three successful IIP applicants.

The IIP applicants had paid Tonna for his services into his British Virgin Islands company. Tonna and Schembri have denied the allegations, claiming the money was the repayment of a loan Schembri gave to Tonna during the latter’s separation proceedings.

Concessionaires are paid €10,000 for each successful application after applicants are subjected to a rigorous, four-tier due diligence process. “The concessionaire has stringent targets to achieve including significant investments in promoting and marketing the Programme overseas,” a spokesperson for the MVRP told MaltaToday.

The application process opened in July 2016, and to date 98 residency cards were issued. 

The residency and visa programme, launched in 2015, is intended to attract wealthy foreigners to invest in Malta in return for a residence permit and visa-free access to the Schengen Zone. It is a separate scheme from the Individual Investment Programme, that offers Maltese citizenship to wealthy investors.

Applicants must purchase property in Malta worth at least €320,000, or €270,000 if it is in the south of the island or in Gozo. They can instead opt to rent property for a yearly minimum of €12,000, downscaled to €10,000 if it is in the South or in Gozo.

They must also commit to a qualifying investment worth at least €250,000 which must be held for at least five years, pay a €30,000 contribution fee, and file an affidavit proving that their annual income stands at €100,000 or that they hold a minimum capital of €500,000.

In a legal notice this week, the government announced some changes to the scheme, including that the €30,000 application fee will now cover the main applicant, spouse and children together. However, applicants will have to pay an additional €5,000 per parent or grandparent included.

The previous age limit of 27 for unmarried economically dependent adult children has been removed, meaning that the applicant’s children who would have qualified as dependants at application stage will no longer lose their residency rights on their 27th birthday, or if they become economically active or get married.

If they marry, they may also be able to add their partner and their direct dependants to the residency scheme for an additional €5,000 fee.

Children of residency applicants or their children, born or adopted after the approval date, will be eligible for Maltese residency against a €5,000 fee.

The requirement for applicants to spend outside of Malta a period of either six consecutive months or an aggregate period of ten months over four years has been removed. 

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Matthew Vella is executive editor at MaltaToday.