Updated 2.15pm

A firm whose parent company's partners were arrested in connection with a money-laundering, has had its licence to sell passports to foreign investors suspended. 

The Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency announced on Wednesday that it had suspended the licence of BT International Limited. 

In a short post on its website, the Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency announced the suspension “until further notice”. 

It comes after Brian Tonna and Karl Cini, partners of its parent company, Nexia BT, were taken into police custody over a money-laundering investigation. 

BT International Limited is a firm owned by Nexia BT. Its directors are Tonna, Cini and a third person, Manuel Castagna. 

On Monday evening, the court ordered the freezing of all assets of a long list of people and companies, including the company’s three directors. 

OPM former chief of staff Keith Schembri, as well as Cini and Tonna were all arrested on Tuesday. Schembri was released on police bail on Tuesday night after being held for almost 20 hours. 

Stock exchange suspends Nexia as corporate advisor

Later on Wednesday, the Malta Stock Exchange announced that it was suspending Nexia BT's licence as a corporate advisor due to a "pending exchange investigation". 

The suspension means Nexia BT will not be able to provide services to small and medium-sized enterprises which are seeking to raise equity on the stock exchange's Prospects multilateral trading facility. All companies seeking admission to Prospects MTF require the services of a corporate advisor prior to and following the admission process.

The 10-day suspension, which is effective as of Wednesday, can be renewed for further periods.

Nexia's plans to hive off business in tatters

News that Nexia BT's licences as an IIP agent and stock exchange corporate advisor were suspended came just hours after a rival firm distanced itself from claims that it would be taking over parts of Nexia's business.

Nexia BT's managing partner Brian Tonna said last week that Reanda Malta would be taking over the company's advisory, local accounting, and audit functions. 

But late on Tuesday, following news of the money laundering investigation implicating Tonna and other Nexia BT officials, Reanda said it had no intention of doing business with the firm. 

"Reanda Malta Limited has not received business from Messrs Nexia BT and will not be receiving any such business," a spokesperson for the company told Times of Malta.

Nexia BT and Egrant

Nexia BT has attracted judicial scrutiny over the past years.  

The Egrant inquiry found that Nexia BT partner Karl Cini “created” documents to back assertions that the mystery Panama company Egrant was owned by Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna.

Former magistrate Aaron Bugeja found prima facie evidence of perjury on Cini’s part and ordered a police investigation.

However, the magistrate instructed the forensic experts engaged as part of the inquiry not to pursue the money laundering red flags found in the Nexia BT data, as these fell outside of the inquiry’s parameters.

Both Cini and Tonna resigned from the Malta Institute of Accountants to avoid facing disciplinary proceedings in 2017.

Tonna was himself the subject of a magisterial inquiry into suspicions that a €100,000 kickback on passport sales passed between him and the former OPM chief of staff. The conclusions of this inquiry led to Monday's freezing of assets order and to the arrests. 

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