Nexia BT has been disowned by the international franchise, although it is so far unclear whether this was a result of the scandals the company has been involved in or the money laundering charges its directors are currently facing in court.
Four Nexia BT officials – including directors Brian Tonna and Karl Cini – were charged with money laundering after the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry that probed an alleged kickback of €100,000 by Tonna to former OPM chief of staff Keith Schembri.
The company, which was awarded numerous consultancy contracts under the Muscat administration, gained notoriety in 2016 when it emerged that it had been instrumental in setting up Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi’s Panama companies, as well as a third company called Egrant.
Tonna and Cini run several companies, including; Nexia BT Advisory Services Ltd, Nexia BT Consulting Ltd, Nexia BT Holdings (Consulting) Ltd, Nexia BT Holdings Ltd, BTI Management Ltd and Nexia BT Ltd. All these companies are listed as ‘active’ on the Malta Business Registry. Another company they own – Nexia BT Projects Ltd – is in dissolution.
Brian Tonna & Co had rebranded to Nexia BT in 2010 after joining the Nexia International network – a group of firms spanning over 100 countries.
According to an interview Tonna had given, the company joined Nexia International in 2007.
“We invested heavily in promoting the name in Malta and today we are glad to see that the Nexia brand is highly regarded on many levels. In line with the international positioning of the brand we aim to be the top mid-tier firm in Malta by providing local expertise with a global reach,” he had told thereport.com
“The membership with Nexia International provides us with a wide pool of resources in over 100 countries. The personal approach, top quality service and approachability of our partners provides comfort to our clients that wherever they go, wherever they set up their business, they can find a reliable Nexia partner to help them,” he had continued.
‘No longer a member’
Replying to questions by The Malta Independent on Sunday, Nexia International said Nexia BT is “no longer a member.”
“Nexia International is a leading, global network of independent accounting and consulting firms. Nexia International Limited coordinates the Nexia International network. It does not provide services to clients. Nexia International Limited and each member firm are separate and independent legal entities, each of which is responsible for its own acts, omissions or liabilities and not those of any other member of the Nexia International network,” a spokesperson said.
The company did not reply to further questions on when and why Nexia BT was disowned.
The court had already imposed a wide-ranging freezing order on Tonna and Cini, their companies and linked business associates.
In September of last year, the MFSA took action against two of Tonna’s companies – BTI Management and BT International Limited – barring them from taking on new clients or providing new services to existing clients.
The following month, the MFSA decided to suspend the authorisation of Nexia BT to act as an approved auditor.
Tonna and Cini had subsequently lost their warrants to practice as accountants after the Accountancy Board initiated disciplinary proceedings against them.
Money laundering charges
The four Nexia officials – Brian Tonna, Karl Cini, Manuel Castagna and Katrin Bondin Carter – were charged in court on Saturday 20 March. They are being held in preventive custody.
During the last sitting, Inspector Ian Camilleri said Tonna and Cini prepared backdated documents to satisfy due diligence requirements after a magisterial inquiry started probing their actions. The documents were required by Pilatus Bank.
Camilleri was testifying about the conclusions of an inquiry that probed an alleged kickback of €100,000 by Tonna to Keith Schembri. Tonna had claimed the money was repayment for a loan Schembri had given him while he passed through marital separation. The prosecution has told the court it does not believe that the money was for a loan because Tonna did not need to borrow money.
The court heard how Bondin Carter, who was a manager at Nexia BT, had prepared backdated documents with Karl Cini to be presented to Pilatus Bank. The documents “did not reflect reality.”
Some of the documents were related to Willerby Trading – the company from which money was transferred to Keith Schembri’s Pilatus Bank account.
The court had also heard how some €650,000 had been paid between Schembri and Hillman through MFSP, after both opened accounts with the company in 2010.
MFSP, now called Zenith, did not carry out proper compliance but acted “as a professional money launderer,” the prosecution said.
Executive director Matthew Pace was complicit with Tonna in producing documents covering six financial transactions manufactured to show the funds were from legitimate avenues, the court heard.
Pace, together with managing director Lorraine Falzon, has also been charged with money laundering, criminal conspiracy, making false declarations to a public authority and accountancy law breaches.
They were among the 11 people arraigned on 20 March. These included Keith Schembri, his father Alfio Schembri and business associates Robert Zammit and Malcolm Scerri.
Their case relates to the procurement, by Allied Newspapers, of a multi-million printing machine from Schembri’s Kasco. A court has heard how the machine was bought through offshore companies to evade tax and how the company that owns Times of Malta was defrauded of over €6.5 million, with the profit planned to be split between Schembri, Scerri and former Allied Newspapers managing directors Adrian Hillman and Vince Buhagiar. The latter has also been charged with money laundering while the authorities have started the process to extradite Hillman to Malta from the UK.