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A ‘fake’ signature, and some perspective

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat officially inaugurated Brian Tonna's (left) Nexia BT offices in June 2013. Photo: DOI / Omar Camilleri

In April 2016, a team of French journalists travelled to Panama to meet a person they described as “one hell of a businesswoman” – she was involved in over 11,000 companies, but when they found her home in a suburb in Panama it was not the mansion you would expect.

A woman emerged from the house in the early hours of the morning, and the journalists asked her if she was Leticia Montoya. “No,” she said. “I am her sister-in-law,” she added, a few minutes before she turned away and walked off refusing to answer any further questions.

Leticia Montoya Cash Investigations
Leticia Montoya. Photo: FranceTVInfo/ Cash Investigations

The journalists had not realised that they had in fact been speaking to the woman they were looking for – as happened when a Net TV journalist was chasing Pilatus Bank owner and chairman Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad down the street in Ta’ Xbiex and did not realise who he had stumbled upon leaving the bank through the back door in the middle of the night with bulging bags.

Similarly, Leticia Montoya got away (although it was not because the country’s police commissioner chose to eat rabbit when Pilatus Bank should have been secured).

When the journalists later compared the woman they had met with file photos of Leticia Montoya, they realised that she was the one they had been looking for. They laid out a streamer in front of her door, detailing an endless list of companies in which she was a director.

Leticia Montoya Cash Investigations
Leticia Montoya. Photo: FranceTVInfo / Cash Investigations

Leticia Montoya’s name also featured in a document involving Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi published by ICIJ of the Panama Papers – it showed that Minister Mizzi was the ultimate shareholder of the company that was held in custody by ATC Administrators until transferred to the New Zealand Trust. The document was signed by Francis Perez and Leticia Montoya, in preparation for Konrad Mizzi’s signature.

Leticia Montoya+ Konrad Mizzi ICIJ PANAMA PAPERS

 

This document was different to the one Konrad Mizzi had presented to journalists in February 2016, which included different signatures.

The point is not whether she was actually involved in Mizzi’s set up, but how easily her signature appeared on documents.

It comes as no surprise that Leticia Montoya’s signature was on that document since she was involved in 11,000 companies, in addition to companies on whose behalf her companies acted.

Corporate lawyers said: “It’s not even humanly possible to sign the amount of paperwork required by that many companies”.

If Cash Investigations labelled Leticia Montoya as “one hell of a businesswoman,” Jaqueline Alexander was out of this world.

She was involved in over 17,500 companies (not 7,600 as previously reported by other channels), according to an analysis of the Panamian company registry database.

Source: OpenCorporates

In addition, each of those companies would have been involved in other companies for which Jaqueline Alexander signed or was required to sign.

Jaqueline Alexander’s is the contested signature in the inquiry by Magistrate Aaron Bugeja which related to the company Egrant Inc, who deemed it “fake”.

The part of the Bugeja report that was made available (49 out of 1,500 pages) indicates that Jaqueline Alexander gave evidence to the effect that she did not write up the trust deeds and that the signatures on them were not hers.

It has been well documented and proven since the release of the Panama Papers that Mossack Fonseca had a well known practice of signing documents in blank and undated to allow their clients to fill them in later. Essentially, giving the clients the keys to the company without knowing (or wanting to know) what they would do with them later.

A sample of the templates with signatures, with company details added later.

In tax havens such as Panama, being a sham director is a common profession. And it has been shown that individuals appointed by Mossack Fonseca served as sham directors for hundreds or even thousands of companies.

In one case alone, Jaqueline Alexander had $60 million in undocumented assets.

Neil Chenoweth
A tweet by journalist Neil Chenoweth of the Australian Financial Review who worked on the Panama Papers.

Documents show that in September 2015, Jaqueline Alexander even issued a power of attorney for entrepreneur Henry Maksoud who had died the previous year.

From the few pages of the Bugeja inquiry that were made public, the veracity of a document supposedly issued by Mossack Fonseca and a signature on it by a Mossack Fonseca sham director became a cornerstone element.

In this context, it would have been surprising if Jaqueline Alexander had actually remembered a declaration of trust drawn up by a colleague among the millions of documents left blank to be filled in by her colleagues or the client.

The client for Mossack Fonseca in this case would be Nexia BT.

Its directors, Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, set up the company structures for the three companies revealed in the Panama Papers, including Egrant Inc.

The main conclusions of the Bugeja inquiry released on Sunday said the magistrate found no documentation linking Egrant Inc to the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle Muscat.

The inquiry did not clear Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Keith Schembri, contrary to claims made by Mizzi in a video published on Facebook.

In April 2017, Tonna had said Egrant Inc was his, and faithfully reported by TVM. Yet, this had been dismissed based on an email revealed in the Panama Papers. In that email from Cini to Mossack Fonseca, he wrote:

“We will prepare the requested information but the UBO [Ultimate Beneficial Owner] will not be Nexia BT. It will be an individual and I will speak to Luis on Skype to give him more details”.

Since the part of the report including the evidence examined (and disregarded), as well as the recommendations by the magistrate for further action to be taken against individuals has not been published, it is as yet unclear whether Tonna and Cini can continue to bury their secrets and whether the whole truth will ever emerge.

Watch the video on Cash Investigations by France TV Info.

Ana Gomes

‘European Socialist Party should call for resignation of Mizzi and Schembri’ – Gomes

Egrant

Anti-corruption NGOs call on AG to publish the Egrant inquiry