Updated | PN leader says Nexia boss is lying over Egrant ownership

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said Brian Tonna's claims that he owns Egrant, the third offshore company set up at Nexia BT's behest, were belied by his own comments • Labour Party says Simon Busuttil is Malta's ‘biggest ever political liar’

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has hit out at what he calls an “outright lie” after Nexia BT owner Brian Tonna told MaltaToday he owns Egrant, the mysterious offshore company created at the same time as Konrad Mizzi’s and Ketih Schembri’s Panamanian offshore companies.

Busuttil’s remarks were made after Brian Tonna, whose firm has enjoyed a close relationship with the Labour government, insisted with MaltaToday that he remains the sole owner of Egrant, the third offshore company set up at Nexia BT’s behest.

“I have already made it very clear that Egrant, purchased by my firm in July 2013, is a shelf company, that is a ready-made company that is available for a client to acquire. It has never had, and does no currently have, any client as ultimate beneficial owner, and it has never been active,” Tonna told MaltaToday in an email through his lawyer.

However, on Sunday, PN leader Simon Busuttil dismissed Tonna’s remarks as a lie, insisting that they were an “insult to the people’s intelligence.”

“We are not fools, the people are not believing you [Brian Tonna]. The government has lied to us; Tonna’s comments are part of the usual strategy which Labour adopts whenever it has its backs against the wall,” Busuttil told party faithful in Ghaxaq.

The Opposition leader argued that Brian Tonna, who has an office at Castille, was no ordinary financial consultant as he had set up Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri’s Panamanian companies at the same time Egrant was set up, and set up his own company in the British Virgin Islands.

“Brian Tonna has an office at the Auberge de Castille, next to the prime minister himself. If I were in Joseph Muscat’s shoes, I would have immediately demanded Brian Tonna divulge the owner of the company, or kick him out. Joseph Muscat did not do this, and instead Brian Tonna came up with this lie,” he said.

Hitting out at the prime minister for being a “compulsive liar”, the PN leader insisted that there is evidence which proves that Tonna’s comments were all lies.

“When the companies owned by [minister] Konrad Mizzi and [OPM chief of staff] Keith Schmebri were set up, the names of their owners were disclosed by email, but Tonna had said that he would relay to Mosscack Fonseca the owner of Egrant by Skype … Why would Tonna hide his name if Egrant was really his and why would he set up a second company?” he said.

The Opposition leader has repeatedly called on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to tell the public whether he knows who Egrant's owner is, with the prime minister repeatedly denying he is the beneficiary of the Panama company. 

The Opposition leader also argued that the Nexia owner’s latest comments were belied by Tonna’s own comments to MaltaToday in April 2016, where he [Tonna] had said: “We are not at liberty to divulge any client details since we are bound by professional secrecy obligations.”

“Last year Brian Tonna said he had a client, and he is now saying that the he owns Egrant. Had the company been owned by Tonna, he would have said so. One could not be his own client, this is an outright lie.”

Furthermore, a leaked email (above) from the Mossack Fonsea server, circulated by the Nationalist Party this morning following Simon Busuttil's speech, shows an email conversation between Karl Cini, Tonna's partner at Nexia BT, and his Mossack Fonseca handler in Panama, in which Cini said the ultimate beneficial owner of the ‘new company’ would not be Nexia BT. It is not known whether the email exchange is referring to Egrant. 

“I am not surprised by these latest lies. What hurt me is that the people are expected to believe it. We are not fabricating these stories, our suspicions are justified,” Busuttil said.

The Opposition leader also argued that Brian Tonna should have refused to open a Panama company for Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schmebri.

“If Brian Tonna was a serious financial consultant, he should have immediately refused to set up the companies because Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri are politically exposed persons. He had a duty to report them to the police,” he said. 

Labour Party: Busuttil is ‘biggest ever liar’

In a reaction, the Labour Party said Tonna’s comments to MaltaToday had belied Simon Busuttil’s claims, and his “allegations and lies had burst in his face.”

“The announcement that Egrant always owned by Nexia and never transferred to anyone proved that Simon Busuttil is Malta’s biggest ever political liar,” the Labour Party said.

“It is clear that Busuttil’s policy of lies was a sign of his desperation in the face of the success the country is achieving under the present government. The people would not go back to the PN government times,” it said.

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