Updated | Brian Tonna was employed as a person of trust by the Justice Ministry

Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna was employed on a position of trust basis by Justice Minister Owen Bonnici for a remuneration of approximately €5,000 per month and kept on despite being the subject of a magisterial inquiry

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

Updated at 4.28pm with Justice Minister's reaction

Brian Tonna, who is the subject of a magisterial inquiry into allegations of kickbacks over Malta’s golden passport scheme, was employed as an advisor by the Justice Minister in the last legislature.

Tonna, the managing partner of financial services firm Nexia BT, was employed on a person of trust basis by Owen Bonnici on a 40-hour per week contract between 2014 and 2016. His contract was extended on a part-time basis until August 2017.

Tonna’s initial contract meant that he earned some €5,000 a month between wages and allowances. This dropped to just over €3,000 per month on the part-time contract.

The revelation was made this afternoon by Times of Malta that obtained the information through a freedom of information request after receiving leaked documents. The information was shared with Reuters.

Bonnici told the newspaper that Tonna was engaged for consultancy work related to EU-funded projects.

Tonna’s contract was ostensibly extended even after the Panama Papers revelations of 2016 and continued last year even after a magistrate started looking into allegations that he passed on kick-backs to the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri over the passport scheme.

Tonna and Schembri deny the allegations, insisting the €100,000 passed on to Schembri was repayment of a private loan.

Bonnici told Times of Malta he saw no issue with Tonna being employed as an advisor while he was the subject of a magisterial inquiry. Tonna declined to comment when approached by Reuters.

Bonnici defends his choice

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday afternoon, Justice Minister Owen Bonnici said that the magisterial inquiry into the allegations against Brian Tonna had started in May last year after Parliament was dissolved and a few weeks before the general election.

Bonnici said the news reports tried to give the impression that Tonna was appointed after the magisterial inquiry got underway.

"After the election I was re-appointed minister with the same portfolio and decided to change my consultants," Bonnici said. Tonna's consultancy came to an end in August 2017, some two months after the general election.

Bonnici insisted that the financial package awarded to Tonna was in line with parameters that had been in place since past Nationalist administrations. He said that Tonna's work was invaluable to secure EU funds. "Hand on heart I say we got value for money," he said.

The context

Tonna’s firm, Nexia BT, had opened three companies in Panama shortly after the 2013 election. Two of these companies, Hearnville and Tillgate, were eventually passed on to minister Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri in 2015.

The creation of the Panama companies became known in 2016 after Daphne Caruana Galizia pre-empted the global release of the Panama Papers, a leaked cache of emails from Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian firm.

Nexia BT had listed the Dubai-based company 17 Black as a target client of the two Panama companies. Last month, a Reuters investigation revealed that 17 Black was owned by one of the investors in Electrogas, the company that won the contract to build and operate a gas power station.

Tonna had sat on one of the adjudication boards in the gas power contract.

READ ALSO: Unravelling the 17 Black mystery

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