Nexia’s Brian Tonna tells MEPs he will only answer questions in writing

Brian Tonna says Nexia BT would like to cooperate with the delegation but will answer questions in writing 

Brian Tonna, the managing partner of Nexia BT
Brian Tonna, the managing partner of Nexia BT

The managing partner of audit firm Nexia BT, Brian Tonna, has committed to provide answers in writing to a delegation of MEPs who start a two-day mission in Malta on Thursday on the “rule of law” on the island.

Tonna, whose firm set up the Panama offshore companies for minister Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, said that he would “undertake to provide answers as quickly as possible in writing” to the MEPs, ruling out an attendance in person.

The group of nine MEPs, from the Panama Papers and Civil Liberties committees, will meet government representatives as well as civil society activists to talk about rule of law in Malta, after the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

Tonna as well as a representative from the private bank Pilatus, have been invited to answer questions from the MEPs.

“Nexia BT would like to cooperate fully with the delegation to the extent possible. I understand the intention of the delegation is to explore and enquire about services provided by Nexia BT in relation to taxation and Malta’s citizenship by investment programmes and, to this effect, I would not expect the delegation to ask questions which are client-specific or which are otherwise covered by Nexia BT’s and my legal obligations to respect professional secrecy and client confidentiality.

“However, I trust that the delegation will appreciate that I would still need to give careful consideration to the applicable legal obligations before responding to any of the delegation’s questions, and I therefore take the view that it would still be more appropriate for Nexia BT to receive and to answer questions in writing.”

In a comment to MaltaToday sent in answer to a question, Tonna said that Nexia BT had informed the MEPs it would collaborate fully and to the extent possible. “However, because of the need to ensure that we observe our legal obligations, we advised the delegation that we considered it more appropriate to receive and to reply to questions put to us in writing. We therefore invited the delegation to consider putting their questions to us in such manner and we committed to make ourselves available to provide our replies and answer any follow-up questions as may be necessary. Until now, we have not been informed of the delegation’s position in this regard.”

Tonna said that as anticipated his reply was within seconds of being sent, leaked. “I will let your esteemed readers draw their own conclusions.”

Tonna was reported to a magistrate by former PN leader Simon Busuttil, on allegations that he kicked up money to Keith Schembri that were originally received by his BVI company Willerby Trade, for the sale of citizenship to three Russian nationals. The allegations have been denied by both Tonna and Schembri, who claim the €100,000 was the repayment of a loan.

The MEPs' delegation will meet Matthew Caruana Galizia, son of Daphne and a member of the ICIJ team that worked on the Panama Papers data; sacked FIAU employee Jonathan Ferris, a former police inspector now pursuing an unfair dismissal claim against the FIAU in the Industrial Tribunal; and host a two-hour round-table discussion activists Advocates For the Rule of Law, a group of lawyers which took out newspaper adverts in the run-up to the 2017 elections decrying the Labour administration’s governance record; Civil Society Network, Occupy Justice, and Kenniesa, which since the assassination of Caruana Galizia have carried out numerous demonstrations calling for reforms and resignations; and also human rights NGO Aditus.

The roundtable will also include lawyer and Nationalist polemicist Andrew Borg Cardona, and Manuel Delia, formerly an advisor of Nationalist minister Austin Gatt now running his own blog. Union Haddiema Maqghudin will also be invited for the discussion.

On the executive side, the mission will be meeting representatives of the FIAU, requesting the presence of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and justice minister Owen Bonnici, representatives of Nexia BT and Pilatus Bank, the MFSA, Attorney General Peter Grech and Chief Justice Silvio Camilleri, and the PM’s chief of staff Keith Schembri.

The Civil Society Network has demanded that Schembri attend the hearings, after he last refused to attend the PANA committee’s mission to Malta.

“CSN expects Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to order Mr Keith Schembri to accept any invitation he may receive from the group of MEPs in Malta this week and give exhaustive replies to their demands for information.

“Whereas one understands that the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff are friends and that this is not something wrong in itself, CSN wishes to remind the Maltese public and in particular Muscat himself that in the oath he took before assuming office he solemnly swore and undertook to perform his duties as Prime Minister without fear or favour.”

The MEPs will include PANA vice-chair Ana Gomes (S&D), co-rapporteur Jeppe Kofod (S&D), Heinz Becker (EPP, Monica Maocvei (ECR), Takis Hadjigeorgiou (GUE), Sven Giegold (Greens), Mario Borghezio (ENF).

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