Court to decide on request to vary freezing order on former Progress Press chairman

A court will decide next month on a request for a variation of a freezing order issued on former Progress Press Chairman Vincent Buhagiar

Former Allied Group managing director Vincent Buhagiar was the only one to be granted bail
Former Allied Group managing director Vincent Buhagiar was the only one to be granted bail

Next month, a court is to decide on a request for a variation of a freezing order issued on former Progress Press Chairman Vincent Buhagiar.

Buhagiar stands accused of money laundering after allegedly receiving hundreds of thousands of euros under a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with disgraced former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri. Schembri is charged separately with corruption and money laundering, as well as other offences.

The case against Buhagiar and that against Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Nexia employee Katrin Bondin Carter continued on Tuesday before Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech.

Buhagiar’s lawyers, Veronique Dalli and Dean Hili asked the court to vary the conditions of the freezing order on the former Chairman. The court said it would hear arguments on the request in the next sitting.

Auditor Stephen Galea was summoned to the witness stand, telling the court that he had worked with the accused, Brian Tonna in particular, for many years. Galea had carried out some audits of their companies and had also used Tonna's services.

Galea exhibited several invoices for which he had paid Tonna €57,660 over a period of time for professional services rendered. The money was paid in cheques and one payment of €5,000 was paid in cash. Questioned by defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, he confirmed that the documents were payments for professional services and a tax invoice had been issued.

A court-appointed IT expert presented the court with a copy of a report he had compiled on data extracted from mobile phones and electronic devices seized from various people with ties to Progress Press.

Later on in the sitting, prosecuting lawyer Antoine Agius from the Office of the Attorney General told the court that the prosecution was close to summoning its last witnesses.

10:21 That's it for today. Thank you for following. A summary of proceedings will follow. Kurt Sansone
10:15 The discussion on the request will be held in the next sitting on 6 December at 9:45am. Kurt Sansone
10:02 Dalli asks for a variation of the freezing order on Buhagiar’s assets. A frail-looking Buhagiar sits wide-eyed in the dock as the lawyers discuss the request. Kurt Sansone
10:02 Dalli asks for a copy but the court expert says the court administration had issued a memo stopping the handing out of copies of large drives to parties, for cost issues. They can see the data in the acts, however. Kurt Sansone
09:58 Lawyer Veronique Dalli is appearing for Buhagiar. Kurt Sansone
09:56 The data was extracted from some 18 mobile phones and tablets, 26 CDs, USB sticks, SIM cards and other electronics seized in searches on various people and Progress Press. The expert explains that he had received the devices in sealed evidence bags and was not informed as to who they belonged to. Kurt Sansone
09:55 Court IT expert, Keith Cutajar, presents a copy of a report from a magisterial inquiry. He presents a 2TB drive containing the result of a forensic analysis of several items including electronics seized. Kurt Sansone
09:54 The next sitting starts. It concerns the money laundering case involving former Allied Newspapers director Vince Buhagiar. Kurt Sansone
09:40 The sitting is over and the accused shuffle out of the courtroom. Matthew Vella
09:39 AG lawyer Antoine Agius says that the prosecution is ‘close’ to summoning its last witnesses. Matthew Vella
09:37 The court orders that for the next sitting a representative of Maprfre MSV Life is summoned to testify about two insurance policies covering Karl Cini, which are due for payment. Matthew Vella
09:33 The lawyer informs the court that he had just filed an application asking for a relaxation of bail conditions. Matthew Vella
09:30 Tonna Lowell wants to present a further application similar to the MSV life one, but regarding BOV. Matthew Vella
09:30 Tonna Lowell says he was going to present an application to the court. The lawyers are thrashing out procedural details. The application deals with an MSV Life financial product, but it is not clear what. Magistrate says it is not on that court is not being appraised of the progress of work being carried out by court expert Paul Darmanin. He is ordered to give a detailed report on his work in the next sitting so that the court can decide on whether to take further proceedings. Matthew Vella
09:29 The prosecution has no further witnesses today. Agius says that he wanted to summon Brian Tonna’s wife to the stand today but was reminded by lawyer Gianella De Marco that she was not a compellable witness. Matthew Vella
09:25 Micallef says Tonna worked for him for 25 years. He is shown a cheque from Micallef to Tonna. This was for work carried out 13 years ago relating to an investment. “I had a business affair I asked him to come in on with me. A piece of land in Birkirkara. The agreement was verbal.” Asked how the amount was decided he says: “If you round them up it doesn’t make sense... we are talking 13 years ago. This number came out, one time we met at the Rabat petrol station and he said he had a family problem and asked if he could cash in his investment.” The deal favoured Micallef, he said. Matthew Vella
09:19 Next witness is John Micallef. He is administered the oath. Micallef had already testified but the prosecution have further questions. Matthew Vella
09:19 Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell cross-examines the witness. He asks if the documents referred to payments between the witness and the accused for professional services against a tax invoice. The witness confirms this is so. No further questions. Galea steps off the stand. Matthew Vella
09:17 Galea is shown a copy of internal audits in which the decision was made to engage him. These were audits in which it was felt that using a third-party auditor would be more fitting. Galea had also used Tonna's services and confirmed in court that he had paid the accused by cheques but on at least one occasion paid in cash.

He exhibits several invoices to him for €57,660 and says one payment of €5,000 was made in cash.

Galea is shown another document from the inquiry held by magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras, in which Nexia wrote to Lombard Bank with a list of cheques it was depositing. Brian Tonna stands up to speak to his lawyer before returning to his seat.
Matthew Vella
09:13 Galea is an accountant and auditor of 30 years’ experience. He recognises Castagna, Beverly Tonna (daughter of Brian), Brian Tonna, whom he’s known for many years in business, and the other accused. Witness says he and the accused had known each other for a long time, but in 2010-11 there was a closer relationship because he had performed some audits of their companies. “I used to do auditing of some accounts for their companies and audits of liquidations of some of their clients.” Matthew Vella
09:08 The report of the magisterial inquiry is being exhibited electronically by the Attorney General. AG lawyer Antoine Agius calls the first witness, Stephen Galea. Matthew Vella
09:08 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech enters the courtroom and the sitting begins. Matthew Vella
09:07 In court now: Nexia partners Brian Tonna and Karl Cini assisted by lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, Nexia employee Katrin Bondin Carter assisted by Franco Debono and Nexia partner Manuel Castagna assisted by Matthew Xuereb. Matthew Vella
09:05 Good morning everyone, we are live from the law courts. Matthew Vella

The cases continue in December.