Nexia BT partners Brian Tonna, Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna and office manager Katrin Bondin Carter will remain in prison for the time being, a magistrate ruled on Tuesday as she denied a bail request filed by the four.

Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said testimony by police inspectors that the suspects had falsified documents were of concern and suggested that they were not to be trusted.

Defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, representing Tonna and Cini, immediately responded by seeking to refer the matter to a civil court. Prosecutor Elaine Mercieca Rizzo described that request as “frivolous”.

Tonna, Cini, Castagna and Bondin Carter face charges of money laundering and falsifying documents, among others, in prosecutions sparked by inquiries into alleged corruption by Keith Schembri, who served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat between 2013 and late 2019. 

Earlier on Tuesday, a court turned down a bail request by Schembri and his co-accused, making an exception for his elderly father, who is also facing criminal charges.

Investigators in the case against Tonna and his Nexia BT co-workers have testified that Tonna’s claim that he sent Schembri €100,000 as repayment of a loan was “not credible” and that Cini and Bondin Carter backdated documents on multiple occasions. The company also appeared to be evading tax, topping up employees’ salaries with undeclared cash sums.

The four were denied bail following their arraignment two weeks ago and have been held at Corradino Correctional Facility since then.

In her decision, the magistrate made reference to a bail decree in the case against murder suspect Yorgen Fenech, who stands accused of complicity in the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

She noted that each case had to be taken on its own merits when assessing whether it was reasonable for a person to be detained for a prolonged period of time.

The court added that it would reconsider a new bail request if investigations were not concluded within a reasonable time period.

When making his bail submissions, defence lawyer Tonna Lowell argued that his clients were high-profile ones with nowhere to abscond to and accused the prosecution of playing “games” to drag the process out.

Police had charged his clients before investigations were concluded and the prosecution appeared to have made up its mind from the outset that they were guilty, he said.

Michael Sciriha, representing Castagna, emphasised the lack of hard evidence to back up the prosecution’s arguments against bail. His client, he argued, was peripheral to proceedings.

Franco Debono, representing Bondin Carter, made a similar point, arguing that his client had cooperated throughout, had never signed any paperwork and served, in his words, as a “typist”. Investigators had confirmed that they had never suspected her of tampering with evidence or absconding, he added.

The prosecution, on the other hand, said investigations were ongoing and there was the possibility that other people would be charged in the case.

When his client's request for bail was rejected, Debono requested a copy of the magistrate's decree but this was not given to any of the parties during the sitting. 

The court said it would decree on the defence’s reference request on Tuesday, April 6 at 3.30pm.

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