Dozens testify in citizenship sale kickback inquiry

Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras has continued to hear representatives from dozens of companies testify in a marathon hearing today as the inquiry into allegations of kickbacks from the sale of citizenships drags on

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
18 August 2017, 1:41pm
The inquiry into allegations of kickbacks from the sale of citizenships being received by Prime Ministerial aide Keith Schembri and Nexia BT director Brian Tonna drags on
The inquiry into allegations of kickbacks from the sale of citizenships being received by Prime Ministerial aide Keith Schembri and Nexia BT director Brian Tonna drags on
Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras has continued to hear representatives from dozens of companies testify in a marathon hearing today as the inquiry into allegations of kickbacks from the sale of citizenships being received by Prime Ministerial aide Keith Schembri and Nexia BT director Brian Tonna drags on.

The procession of witnesses choked the corridors of the court building, which is normally deserted at this time of the year.

The inquiry is not open to the public or press.

Magistrate Galea Sciberras' inquiry was launched after magistrate Aaron Bugeja, who is conducting a separate inquiry into allegations that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat or his wife set up an offshore company in Panama to launder kickbacks, ruled that there were grounds for an investigation to be launched into the financial dealings of the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and Nexia BT director Brian Tonna.

It was following the publication of the Panama Papers in February 2016 that Keith Schembri and then energy minister Konrad Mizzi were first outed as the owners of companies in the secretive Panamanian jurisdiction. Nexia BT, local representative of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose records had been leaked online, also came under scrutiny. More allegations of money laundering and corruption involving shell companies and trusts followed, resulting in no less than 5 magisterial inquiries.

In May this year, outgoing Opposition leader Simon Busuttil had presented evidence in court to support his allegation that €166,831 had been paid by three Russian nationals to Tonna after they applied for Maltese citizenship. Busuttil alleged that shortly after receiving the money, Tonna had made two payments of €50,000 to Schembri's bank account. Both men claim that these transactions were made as repayments on a loan.

As the allegations surrounding Schembri and Tonna did not fall within Magistrate Bugeja's original remit – that of investigating the allegations involving the Prime Minister and Michelle Muscat, a separate inquiry was launched and assigned by lot to Magistrate Galea Sciberras.

None of the five magisterial inquiries launched earlier this year into allegations of government corruption: the inquiry into alleged links between Panama-registered company Egrant and the Prime Minister being held by magistrate Aaron Bugeja, magistrate Doreen Clarke's inquiry into the FIAU leak of compliance reports about Pilatus Bank, magistrate Consuelo Scerri Herrera's inquiry into the leak of a preliminary FIAU report on Pilatus Bank to the then Commissioner of Police Michael Cassar in April 2016, magistrate Galea Sciberras' inquiry into Schembri and Tonna, nor magistrate Josette Demicoli's inquiry into allegations of money laundering by Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman through Pilatus Bank have yet been concluded.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...