Nexia BT’s Brian Tonna told a parliamentary committee that he had “little to no contact” with the Labour Party before the 2013 election, although he said he did meet Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat informally back then.
Tonna was speaking at a Public Accounts Committee meeting, a week after he refused to answer any questions about the topic at hand – an Auditor General report on the Electrogas power station – claiming that he may be a suspect in ongoing proceedings in this regard.
Speaker Anglu Farrugia however ruled this week that Tonna had to answer questions which would not incriminate himself, allowing for the sitting to be convened on Wednesday afternoon.
Tonna’s lawyer – Stephen Tonna Lowell – prefaced the sitting by saying that they did not agree with the ruling handed down by Speaker Anglu Farrugia and that they would be opening a constitutional case over it.
Still though – the meeting went on – with Tonna facing a grilling from the PN MPs on the board – Beppe Fenech Adami, Karol Aquilina, and Ryan Callus.
Tonna said that he didn’t recall much about the committees and meetings in the run up to the Electrogas project, saying that he was only involved personally at the adjudication stage.
He was also grilled about his contact with the Labour Party prior to the 2013 election.
Tonna said he had “little to no contact with the PL” before the 2013 election, but says that the meetings were very informal. He said that he had met Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat when Labour was still in Opposition – one time he said that Muscat asked him about the chairman of MFSA.
He said that this is because he was in the financial industry even though back then we would never be involved “for obvious reasons” – which he elaborates are political, something PN MPs take some offence to before PL whip Glenn Bedingfield chimed in to tell them not to act like “virgins.”
Questions also turned to the Panama Papers. Tonna chose not to answer questions related to Keith Schembri on the basis that there are sub-judice proceedings in this regard.
He said that Konrad Mizzi had never indicated to him the names of 17 Black and Macbridge – two secret companies which were identified as target clients for Mizzi’s and Keith Schembri’s Panama companies – but that someone else had.
Asked who that person was, Tonna said that he could not answer the question as it is sub-judice.
He says that he opened a company called Tonbridge for Cheng Chen, but that was the extent of his involvement with him – and at the time of him opening his country, he didn’t know that Cheng Chen was involved with Enemalta.
Asked about Yorgen Fenech, Tonna said that he did two things – an audit for the company New Energy – and some work in relation to an IT audit of one of his companies. He doesn’t exactly remember the time of the audit, but asid it was after the adjudication. The IT audit was in 2017 or 2018, he said.
Tonna will have a featuring role in the next Public Accounts Committee session on Wednesday.
15:52: Callus asks for the cost benefit analysis and some other invoices – Aquilina asks for all the documents that Tonna had passed on to the Auditor General related to Electrogas so to avoid confusion.
The sitting comes to a close. Tonna will feature again today week at 2pm.
15:49: They are now arguing over whether Tonna had a conflict of interest when Nexia BT was appointed as auditors for GEM Holdings while the evaluation process was ongoing in 2014.
15:40: He says that he opened a company called Tonbridge for Cheng Chen, but that was the extent of his involvement with him – and at the time of him opening his country, he didn’t know that Cheng Chen was involved with Enemalta.
Asked about Yorgen Fenech, Tonna says that he did two things – an audit for the company New Energy – and some work in relation to an IT audit of one of his companies. He doesn’t exactly remember the time of the audit, but says it was after the adjudication. The IT audit was in 2017 or 2018, he says.
15:37: Konrad Mizzi never gave any names of 17 Black or Macbridge, Tonna says. Aquilima implies that it was Keith Schembri then who had given him the names. Tonna says he cannot answer as he is sub-judice.
“Why did you write 17 Black and Macbridge?”
“Because that is what I was given”, Tonna says.
“By who?”, the question chimes back.
“Not Konrad Mizzi.”
“I cannot answer because it is sub-judice”, Tonna says.
15:27: The atmosphere is tense and at times quite heated. Tonna is replying to questions very forcefully, while PN MPs continue to press him.
Aquilina asks for a rundown of all the invoices that Nexia has from the government; Tonna laments that the company “because of what is in public domain and other forces” is now closed anyway, and says he will bring everything that is related to Electrogas and nothing else.
Aquilina asks whether Keith Schembri had come to ask for similar services as Konrad Mizzi. Tonna says he won’t answer that. Aquilina suggests that he can’t not answer, but that he must say that he will incriminate himself – which Tonna and his lawyer both deny to say.
15:23: Aquilina asks to confirm that the project was spearheaded by Konrad Mizzi. Tonna confirms that it seemed to be the case. Aquilina then asks about when he started offering services to Mizzi as his client. Tonna says it was two to three years after the election – something Fenech Adami points out runs against what is in the public domain.
“Ask me about Egrant when you want – when you want!”, Tonna says as they argue over this point and the Panama Papers revelations.
15:20: Clayton Bartolo points out that Karol Aquilina’s line of questioning has nothing to do with the subject at hand. Aquilina insists it does and that the report mentions it. Bedingfield asks to cite the exact point, where Callus obliges.
The grilling goes on: Tonna says that his involvement on Electrogas started when they got involved in the evaluation process.
15:18: Tonna says he had “little to no contact with the PL” before the 2013 election, but says that the meetings were very informal. He says that he had met Keith Schembri and Joseph Muscat when Labour was still in Opposition – one time he said that Muscat asked him about the chairman of MFSA leader. He said that this is because he was in the financial industry even though back then we would never be involved “for obvious reasons” – which he elaborates are political, something PN MPs take some offence to before Bedingfield chimes in to tell them not to act like “virgins.”
The PN MPs grill Tonna as to why people from the financial people went to him, and Fenech ADami insinuates that he had a prior agreement with Schembri.
Tonna Lowell says that his client’s relationship with Schembri is sub-judice and will not answer questions about him. A further argument ensues when Fenech Adami emntions the Times and passport kickbacks magisterial inquiries – a mention which rubs Tonna the wrong way.
15:15: Tonna once again confirmed that Anita Alosio was a partner with Nexia BT. He then confirmed that he was involved in the three stages, from what he can recall.
Asked on whether a cost-benefit analysis was carried out, Tonna confirmed that this was done but then added that he had requested Kirsten Cutajar Miller to carry out the CBA. Following this, an impact assessment was carried out.
15:05 Fenech Adami read out a part from the auditor’s report which relates to the financial aspects of the process, saying that this aspect of the due diligence process was not officially robust. He went on saying that the veritifications related to fraud, bribery, corruption, internal controls, ethical conduct and other governance issues did not form part of the due dilignece carried out.
Tonna interrupted Fenech Adami stating that “our remit was not within the remit you just stated.”
Fenech Adami reiterated and said that “auditor clearly states that the financial aspect of the due diligence process was not officially robust. Your job was to see if the people were competent enough.”
This was then counter-argued by Bedingfield who claimed that Fenech Adami was not being just because the auditor’s general report didn’t come to such a conclusion that Fenech Adami has just read.
Fenech Adami reiterated what the auditor stated in the report which presents a number of shortcomings.Bedingfield once again argued that the report does not state the conclusion Fenech Adami just read out.
14:40 Tonna is facing a number of questions about his and Nexia BT’s roles in a number of different committees at different stages of the project. There is a lot of “I don’t remember”s from Tonna at the moment, but he is being confronted by Fenech Adami over the company’s involvement.
14:34 Enemalta has the actual working, which was the result of the data inputted. The result automatically issued, then.
14:33 Brian Tonna did not keep any minutes of the first committee. The conclusion was just the result of the financial model and which bid was the best one.
14:32 Tonna just recalls that a number of meetings were held.
14:31 Brian Tonna just recalled David Galea that used to be present as he was the project leader. He does not recall who the other persons were.
14:30 MP Aquilina is asking about what experience does Brian Tonna hold in these huge projects. Brian Tonna says he had none.
14:29 Brian Tonna is explainging what was their job and how Enemalta personel helped what data to be inputted in the financial model or not.
14:28 Dr. Beppe Fenech Adami is asking how come he chose two of his colleagues to be also on this committee.
14:24 He was the Financial Leader. Two of his colleagues were chosen to also be part of this ajudication committee.
14:22 Brian Tonna insists that it was always Nexia BT called for this and then he was engaged to be part of the ajudication comittee.
14:20 Brian Tonna says that he was never involved in the Electrogas project except when he was called to be part of the ajudication board. He was called by Enemalta.
14:20 Dr. Aquilina explains that Mr. Tonna is here today as he was mentioned in the Auditor Conclusion.
14:19 General questions are being asked regarding Brian Tonna’s background. He is explaining his background as an auditor and the companies he owns. Brian Tonna mentions two property companies and denies any other owership of any other companies.
MP Karol Aquilina still insists that the Committee shall still holds the meeting and ask the questions.
14:15 MP Karol Aquilina still insists that the Committee shall still holds the meeting and ask the questions.
14:14 He is asking for the meeting to be suspended as he will present his Constitutional Case.
14:12 Tonna’s lawyer is stating that he does not agree with this ruling and he is to open a Constitutional case about it.
14:11 Dr. Fenech Adami is explaining that Mr. Tonna still has to answer a question even if he is incriminating anyone else.
14:10 The ruling emphasizes that Mr. Tonna is to answer any question that does not incriminate him in the current know investigations.
14:09 Beppe Fenech Adami calls Brian Tonna to join them at the table so that the meeting starts off.