Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and associates granted bail in money laundering case

Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna, and their employee Katrin Bondin Carter, are granted bail

Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna (centre) and Karl Cini (right) being transported to Court by police
Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna (centre) and Karl Cini (right) being transported to Court by police

The court has granted bail to Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna and their employee Katrin Bondin Carter after a sitting in which various police officers testified.

The accused have all pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering.

Tonna and Cini were granted bail against a deposit of €60,000 each and a personal guarantee of €90,000. They cannot go overseas and have to sign the bail book daily at the police station. The other accused were handed down slightly less onerous bail conditions.

When the compilation of evidence against them continued today, the court heard the testimony of a number of police officers involved in the searches and arrests.

Defence lawyers argued that the evidence against their clients was documentary and this had been collected and presented, which meant there was no risk of tampering. The prosecution led by the Attorney General's office insisted investigations were progressing well but had not yet concluded.

In September 2020, Tonna and Cini lost their warrants to practice as accountants after the regulatory authority initiated disciplinary proceedings against them.

The board also suspended the registration of Nexia BT, BTI Management Limited and Nexia BT Advisory Services Limited.

The court had already imposed a wide-ranging freezing order on Tonna and Cini, their companies and linked business associates.

READ MORE: Brian Tonna, Karl Cini started falsifying documents when inquiries kicked off

The prosecutions are linked to two magisterial inquiries initiated on a request by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil. The first concerns allegations of kickbacks between Tonna and former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri from the sale of citizenship to Russian nationals.

The second inquiry concerns allegations that Schembri paid backhanders to Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar, former managing directors at Allied Newspapers over the purchase of printing machinery by Progress Press.

Schembri and other business associates of his from the Kasco Group were granted bail yesterday and released today.

Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell is appearing for Tonna and Cini, while Michael Sciriha and Matthew Xuereb are appearing for Castagna. Lawyer Franco Debono is appearing for Katrin Bondin Carter.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is presiding.

15:41 Thank you for following. A summary will appear shortly. Kurt Sansone
15:41 That is all for today. The next session will be held on 15 April at 9am. Kurt Sansone
15:41 Manuel Castagna is granted bail against a deposit of €30,000 and a personal guarantee of €45,000. The court imposed a curfew between 9pm and 7am and he will have to sign the bail book three times a week. Kurt Sansone
15:39 Katrin Bondin Carter is granted bail against a deposit of €15,000 and a personal guarantee of €15,000. The court imposed a curfew between 11pm and 8am and the accused has to sign twice a week at the Żejtun police station. Kurt Sansone
15:34 Karl Cini is also granted bail on the same conditions. He has to sign the bail book daily at the St Julian’s police station. Kurt Sansone
15:33 The court gives Brian Tonna bail against a deposit of €60,000 and a personal guarantee of €90,000. He is prohibited from travelling overseas and is obliged to sign the bail book daily at the Żabbar police station. He is also prohibited from approaching the airport and must stay at least 10m away from the coast. Kurt Sansone
15:30 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech is giving her decree. Kurt Sansone
15:25 AG lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo reiterates that investigations are progressing well but have not been concluded, which is why the prosecution is objecting to bail. Kurt Sansone
15:23 Lawyer Michael Sciriha for Manuel Castagna makes submissions. He notes that according to testimony given by an inspector, Castagna was not investigated in relation to the money laundering charges involving Keith Schembri and Adrian Hillman. He says bail should be granted. Kurt Sansone
15:20 Lawyer Franco Debono for Katrin Bondin Carter says the court has acted efficiently in this case and heard a number of witnesses. He says his client should be given bail on the conditions laid down by the court. Kurt Sansone
15:15 The lawyer is arguing that there is no fear that evidence can be contaminated in this case. Kurt Sansone
15:10 Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, who is representing Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, is now making bail submissions. He reiterates that the AG is simply repeating the same arguments used in other cases linked to this. He points out that the magistrate has already decreed in favour of bail in the other cases. Kurt Sansone
15:04 AG lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo presents the Attorney General’s reply to the request for bail. The magistrate gives the defence lawyers the chance to read it. Kurt Sansone
15:03 We're back in session. Kurt Sansone
13:47 Three officers summoned could not appear in court today, she says. The court says that in the meantime the Attorney General will reply to the bail applications filed by the defence. The court adjourns for an hour. We resume at 2:45pm. Kurt Sansone
13:46 The magistrate motions to her deputy to hand her a diary. The discussions come to an end and the lawyers disperse back to their positions. Mercieca Rizzo dictates a note. Kurt Sansone
13:36 AG lawyer Elaine Mercieca Rizzo asks to approach the Bench. All the lawyers in the case walk up to the magistrate's seat and discuss something out of earshot of the public and the press present in the courtroom. Kurt Sansone
13:34 Schembri’s wife had answered the door and called him to come out. The officer had explained how the searches were to be carried out. He tells the court that two iPhones, 2 iPads, a MacBook Pro and USB sticks were seized. Nothing was seized in a subsequent search at Bormla house. A third search, of Schembri’s office at the Kasco factory returned a PC and a laptop. The police officer says that Schembri was given a receipt. Kurt Sansone
13:31 A police constable who had searched Keith Schembri's house in Mellieħa is next to testify. Kurt Sansone
13:31 Another police constable from the FCID takes the stand. He had assisted as a fixed point outside the Kasco factory and had helped Inspector Keith Mallan conduct searches inside the Times of Malta building in Mrieħel. Kurt Sansone
13:29 The police officer had also analysed bank transactions carried out by Bondin Carter. He steps off the witness stand. Kurt Sansone
13:27 Another FCID AML constable takes the stand. On 21 September, he had been ordered to arrest “a certain Brian Tonna” which they did at 11:45pm. They had given him a copy of his arrest warrant, read out his rights and a copy of the attachment order. A search of his residence was concluded at around 1am. From there the officers went to Nexia BT offices in San Gwann. Electronics were seized. The search finished at around 2am. He says he had also carried out financial profiling on Katrin Bondin Carter. He presents the court with a copy of his report. Kurt Sansone
13:19 A police constable tells the court that two iPhones were among the electronics seized from Brian Tonna's property. Kurt Sansone
13:14 Like it did in yesterday’s sitting that dealt with the cases of Keith Schembri and others, the court is hearing various police officers testifying on their involvement in the anti-money laundering operation. Kurt Sansone
13:12 Another sergeant takes the witness stand. He was present for Manuel Castagna's arrest. A search of his property took place and various objects including a mobile and laptops were seized. Kurt Sansone
13:11 A police sergeant from the AML unit within the Financial Crime Investigation Department takes the stand. She had been part of the police unit sent to arrest Kasco Group’s financial controller Robert Zammit in Mosta. He was under quarantine and could not be arrested. The police gave him a copy of the attachment order and seized his phone. He did not sign the receipt as he was COVID-19 positive. Kurt Sansone
13:06 We're back in session. Kurt Sansone
13:05 The magistrate suspends the sitting for five minutes. Kurt Sansone
13:05 Gatt says that on 7 March 2020, together with Inspector James Turner and other officers had gone to a property in Triq it-Turisti St Paul's Bay. They had contacted Matthew Pace and told him to come to the location. He was arrested and a search was carried out. Kurt Sansone
13:04 Police constable Kersten Gatt from the Anti-Money Laundering Squad takes the stand. In September 2020, she had, together with other officers in the presence of Karl Cini searched a property in San Gwann. Electronics and documents relating to Nexia BT were seized as well as around €12,000 in cash. She also searched his office in San Gwann and seized a laptop and other items. Kurt Sansone
13:02 Another police officer, Francesco Farrugia, takes the stand. He had searched Three Cities Design in Bormla and later Kasco's factory in Bulebel. He was also present for Pace's arrest. Kurt Sansone
12:56 Turner wraps up his testimony and steps off the witness stand. Kurt Sansone
12:55 Turner had carried out the arrest and search warrant on Matthew Pace in St Paul's Bay. He says that Pace handed over his mobile phone and a laptop to police but had refused to give up his passwords. Kurt Sansone
12:52 Inspector James Turner takes the stand. Kurt Sansone
12:50 Manuel Castagna is represented by lawyer Michael Scirha. Katrin Bondin Carter is represented by lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia. Karl Cini and Brian Tonna are represented lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell. Kurt Sansone
12:46 Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech emerges from her chambers and the sitting starts. She discusses something with the prosecution and defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, who have approached the bench. Kurt Sansone
12:36 We are waiting for the compilation of evidence against Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Manuel Castagna and Katrin Bondin Carter to continue. Kurt Sansone
12:35 Good afternoon. Kurt Sansone