Nexia BT managing partner Brian Tonna and three other officials from the auditing firm were back in court on Tuesday as the compilation of evidence over a series of financial crimes resumed.

In a previous sitting, the court had declared that there was sufficient prima facie evidence for Tonna, together with his business partners Karl Cini and Manuel Castagna and office manager Marie Katrin Bondin Carter, to stand trial. 

During Tuesday’s sitting, Superintendent Frank Anthony Tabone ran the court through the chain of events following the completion of a magisterial inquiry in September last year.

The conclusions reached by inquiring magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras had kickstarted a series of investigations by the financial crimes unit, leading up to search and arrest warrants issued against former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri as well as Nexia BT officials Tonna, Cini and Castagna. 

A second magisterial inquiry wrapped up in March 2021, conducted by magistrate Josette Demicoli, brought about fresh arrests, searches and questioning of suspects.

On March 7, the same team of investigators working on the first inquiry were entrusted with the arrests of Schembri’s business partner Malcolm Scerri and accountant Robert Zammit, as well as former Times of Malta managing director Vincent Buhagiar.

The next day, Keith Schembri’s father, Alfio, and Kasco’s Simon Poulton were also targeted in the investigation.

An analyst was subsequently roped in to focus on documents seized during searches at the suspects’ homes and offices as well as documentation contained in the records of the two magisterial inquiries.  

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell, the superintendent said that during police questioning, both Tonna and Cini had taken a firm stand, refusing to answer questions until they were given disclosure and had sufficient time to take note of the conclusions reached by the inquiring magistrates.

The lawyer pointed out that, back in September, those conclusions had simply been read out to his clients in his presence but no documents were handed over. To date, the defence was still to obtain copies of the magisterial inquiries. 

The court, presided over by magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech, said that those inquiries, totalling 27 and 24 boxes of evidence, were being scanned and copies being prepared for the parties. 

Various Transport Malta officials testified at Tuesday’s sitting, supplying details about vehicles registered in the name of each of the accused between 2017 and 2019.

One official from the Merchant Shipping Directorate testified that Tonna had acquired a vessel in October 2016, which was subsequently renamed ‘Tranquility’ and transferred to a third party in September 2019. 

Another official from the Small Ships Registry testified that Tonna had two vessels registered in his name between July 1997 and April 2006 and August 2007 and 2014.

No registrations were traced at the Civil Aviation Directorate. 

 The case continues in November. 

Inspectors Joseph Xerri, Anne Marie Xuereb and Ian Camilleri are prosecuting, assisted by AG lawyers Antoine Agius Bonnici and Sean Xerri de Caro. Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell is counsel to Tonna and Cini. Lawyer Michael Sciriha and Matthew Xuereb are counsel to Castagna. Lawyer Franco Debono is counsel to Bondin Carter. Lawyer Giannella de Marco is counsel to KBT Holdings Ltd.


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