A €100,000 “loan” by Keith Schembri, ostensibly to help his auditor Brian Tonna with separation costs, was dated at a time when the Tonnas were still buying property together as a married couple, documents seen by The Sunday Times of Malta show.
According to a leaked report by the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU), the loan agreement is suspected to be a “bogus” means to justify two €50,000 payments made to Mr Schembri by Mr Tonna in 2015. These are believed to be kickbacks on passport sales.
The March 2012 loan agreement is actually dated two years before a separation deed was filed by the Tonnas in August 2014.
A copy of the August 2014 separation deed seen by The Sunday Times of Malta shows Mr Tonna would have likely been under more financial strain, as a result of the separation, at around the time he repaid the interest-free “loan” to Mr Schembri.
In fact, the deed obliged Mr Tonna to pay €5,883 per month plus €2,500 in maintenance after August 13, 2014, as a result of a €1 million settlement with his former wife which came two full years after the “loan” from Mr Schembri.
Anti-money laundering investigators at the FIAU were unable to find any traces of the 2012 payment to Mr Tonna that was the subject of the loan agreement.
The leaked FIAU report noted that Mr Tonna appeared “sufficiently wealthy to handle the costs of personal separation proceedings without needing third party funding”.
Six days after the separation deed was filed, Mr Tonna was given a “full time” position at the Justice Ministry on a contract worth €5,000 monthly.
Nexia BT and affiliated companies also received over €800,000 worth of public contracts since Labour returned to power in March 2013, including consultancies with the Prime Minister’s office.
FIAU unable to find traces of 2012 loan payment
A leaked copy of the FIAU’s probe into the €100,000 payment found that Pilatus Bank was presented with a loan agreement dated March 12, 2012, to justify the payments that later passed between Mr Tonna and Mr Schembri in 2015.
The Tonnas’ separation deed shows the couple jointly bought a Żejtun field 15 days after the date of the agreement for a €100,000 loan from Mr Schembri, which was intended, according to the Prime Minister’s aide, to help his auditor financially with the separation.
In a May 2016 money-laundering report given to the police, the FIAU called for immediate examination of Nexia BT’s servers to establish when the loan agreement was actually drawn up.
Investigators found that the funds transferred to Mr Schembri originated from sales of Maltese citizenship that his auditor had routed through Willerby Inc, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands whose ownership was obscured behind nominees.
“The transfer of funds originating from applicants under the scheme to the personal account of an official holding a position of trust in that same office is seen to be a suspicious transaction warranting further investigation by the police,” the FIAU said in its report.
Nexia BT is an agent for Malta’s passport sale scheme. The scheme’s concessionaires, Henley & Partners, have described Mr Schembri as the company’s “main contact” in the Prime Minister’s office.
Questions sent to Mr Tonna by The Sunday Times of Malta were not acknowledged or replied to by the time of writing. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Doorstepped by the Times of Malta in February 2018, Economic Crimes chief Ian Abdilla said the police were planning “further action” on the basis of two FIAU reports about Mr Schembri, but this halted once the reports were leaked and presented to the courts by former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.
The inquiry into the €100,000 payment is being led by Magistrate Natasha Galea Sciberras. The status of the inquiry, which began in May 2017, is unknown.
Mr Schembri is also facing another inquiry about €600,000 worth of payments routed through various companies and accounts given to Allied Newspaper’s former managing director Adrian Hillman.
March 12, 2012 – Keith Schembri “loans” his auditor Brian Tonna €100,000 to help with his separation costs. The FIAU found no trace of this payment and questioned when the loan agreement was actually drawn up.
March 20, 2012 – The Tonna couple buy a field in Żejtun.
August 13, 2014 – The Tonnas finalise a separation deed, obliging Mr Tonna to pay his wife €5,883 per month plus €2,500 in maintenance.
August 20, 2014 – Mr Tonna is given a “full time” position with the Justice Ministry on a contract worth €5,000 per month.
January 12, 2015 – Mr Schembri receives a €50,000 payment from his auditor’s company in the British Virgin Islands. The payments pass between accounts held at Pilatus Bank.
February 2, 2015 – A second €50,000 payment is received by Mr Schembri. According to the FIAU report, the men justified the payments as being settlement for the 2012 “loan”.
May 2016 – The FIAU calls for an immediate police investigation to establish whether the payments were meant as kickbacks on passport sales.
May 2017 – A magisterial inquiry is launched after the FIAU’s report is leaked. Former Opposition leader Simon Busuttil accuses the police of being complicit in a cover-up after no apparent action was taken on the basis of the report.