Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna and Karl Cini remained tight-lipped on Wednesday as they responded to each question asked by the Public Inquiry Board by saying that they choose to remain silent.
The much-awaited questioning of the protagonists at the forefront of the financial company at the centre of Malta’s Panama Papers scandal was met with an anti-climax as, under oath, the two invoked their right to silence time and time again as the three Judges asked them dozens of questions.
Prior to Tonna’s testimony, the pair’s lawyer, Stephen Tonna Lowell, informed the Board that both Tonna and Cini are suspects in three different instances: they have received attachment orders, they have been indicated as suspects in a pending magisterial inquiry into 17 Black, and they are pending investigation by police as they remain on bail.
An attachment order prevents individuals from selling, disposing or transferring assets. In September, a court ordered the freezing of assets of Cini, Tonna and his partners, their families and associated companies. Following that, Nexia BT’s licence to sell passports was suspended.
The Board, which is tasked with investigating whether the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia could have been prevented, agreed that both Tonna and Cini had the right to not respond to questions asked. The Board’s questions covered a number of scandals to which both are linked.
The Judges questioned about their relationships with former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, former Minister Konrad Mizzi and former Chief of Staff Keith Schembri, about their relations to dozens of companies, about the setting up of Panama companies Egrant, Hearnville and Tillgate, and the request for proposals for the Electrogas project, among others. Questions were also asked about a specific company, B2A – Bridge2Asia, and the purpose behind it.
However, each time, the question was met with the same answer: “I choose not to respond”.
Family lawyer Jason Azzopardi asked Tonna who was the Ultimate Beneficial Owner of Egrant. More specifically, Azzopardi directly questioned Cini as to whether he denies that Egrant is owned by Muscat’s wife, Michelle Muscat. Those present in the courtroom did not hold their breath as Cini repeated: “I choose not to respond”.
In emails exposed through the Panama Papers in 2016, Cini was shown to be in correspondence with the now-defunct Panama firm Mossack Fonseca in an attempt to set up the companies linked to Mizzi and Schembri. Till today, the owner of the third company, Egrant, remains unknown.
Despite being linked to damning revelations, Nexia BT continued to benefit from direct orders from the government.