The company involved in the latest corruption allegations surrounding the Prime Minister’s top aide, Keith Schembri, was set up just days after Joseph Muscat was sworn in, the Times of Malta can reveal.
Investigations carried out by this newspaper indicate that Brian Tonna’s Willerby Trade Inc was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands on March 19, 2013, a week after Dr Muscat and Mr Schembri took up their official positions at the Office of the Prime Minister.
It also resulted that although Willerby had charged three Russian applicants €166,831.90 to acquire Maltese citizenship, it was not a registered agent with Identity Malta and was not authorised to act as such.
Asked whether Identity Malta had launched an investigation into how Willerby received payments directly from Maltese passport buyers when officially it had nothing to do with the scheme, the State entity responsible for the cash-for-passports scheme failed to reply.
It was also asked whether in view of the latest claims involving possible abuse within the passport scheme, Nexia BT’s licence had been suspended. Again, no reply was forthcoming.
According to the list published by Identity Malta, both Nexia BT and BT International Ltd – owned by Mr Tonna – appear as agents.
Senior officials at Identity Malta, who asked to remain anonymous, told this newspaper that it was “very odd” that a company not involved in the scheme had received payments.
“This fact alone is an indication of wrongdoing and should have been spotted by internal checks and balances at Identity Malta,” a senior official said.
Until the publication of the Panama Papers last year, no one was aware that the BVI financial vehicle was actually owned by Mr Tonna.
Incorporated on March 19, 2013, Willerby Trade Inc has a registered address in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, and its correspondence address is in San Ġwann, Malta, the offices where Nexia BT is located and which, until a few months ago, hosted the Maltese branch of Mossak Fonseca. This branch was closed shortly after the Panama Papers leaks.
Willerby’s shareholders were listed in another company – ATC Administrators Inc – with Giselle Yajaira Fonseca and Jacqueline Parrales acting as directors.
It was in the wake of the Panama Papers that it emerged Mr Tonna, a consultant to the Prime Minister, was the ultimate beneficiary owner of the BVI firm.
The Panama Papers also revealed the existence of a number of other tax haven companies, all somehow connected to Nexia BT and formed after the last general election.
These include those opened for Mr Schembri, for the Minister Within the Office of the Prime Minister, Konrad Mizzi, and Egrant Inc, which, according to a former Pilatus Bank employee, was owned by the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle.
Both Prime Minister and Mrs Muscat deny the claims. Mr Schembri and Dr Mizzi admitted having Panama companies.
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil alleged last week that Mr Tonna’s BVI company had opened a bank account in Ta’ Xbiex-based Pilatus Bank, where it was receiving proceeds from the sale of Maltese passports.
According to “documented evidence” Dr Busuttil said he handed over to the magistrate conducting an inquiry into the allegations, part of the sum received from the three Russian passport buyers – €100,000 – ended up in a bank account owned by Mr Schembri.
Mr Schembri insisted the payment was in settlement of a 2012 loan given to Mr Tonna.
When asked for proof of the loan, Mr Schembri told this newspaper he would “present the agreement to the magistrate if and when requested”.
Mr Tonna, who said he did receive a loan from Mr Schembri, audits Mr Schembri’s private Kasco Group.
He has so far failed to explain why the settlement of the loan was made directly through funds gained from commissions on the IIP scheme.
“I have nothing to add at this point,” Mr Tonna replied when asked about the matter.