By Godfrey Leone Ganado, who here reminds us of the many outstanding questions on the third Panama company and asks some new ones.
The two declarations of trust dated 20 August 2015, which were in the kitchen-safe at Pilatus Bank as alleged by whistle-blower Maria Efimova, are both allegedly held by the subscribers to the Egrant notarised Memorandum and Articles of Association, Dubro Limited and Aliator S.A., as nominees and trustees for Ms Michelle Muscat nee Tanti.
After a year of self-imposed and self-declared silent deliberation, Joseph Muscat addressing a press conference in April 2017 categorically denied allegations that his wife, or himself, are the beneficial owners of the Panamanian offshore company Egrant or any undeclared bank account.
It is pertinent to highlight that the allegations state that the two declarations of trust were provided to the bank by Brian Tonna as a pre-requisite for opening the account for Egrant and that Michelle Muscat’s name is also given on another document that was allegedly held in the bank’s safe: the account opening form for Egrant. Daphne Caruana Galizia, in her running commentary on this issue, wrote that these documents had been uploaded on Cloud for security purposes.
The whistle-blower had said that she had been aware of the surname Muscat as being associated with the Prime Minister of Malta. However, I ask: ‘was she also aware that Michelle Muscat was born Tanti, as the document she spoke of is alleged to have said. After all her maiden surname would have been known to perhaps a few relatives and friends. She never uses Muscat Tanti as her surname except for her on line visiting card related to the Buttardi fashion costume jewellery business’.
The mystery of, and the allegations, on the ownership of Egrant had been going on since the publication of the Panama Papers on 10 May 2016, and Joseph Muscat had on various occasions denied that he or his wife or children or members of his family had anything to do with Egrant, and that he was very irritated with the ongoing accusations that he was the beneficial owner. I ask: ‘why did Brian Tonna not come to his rescue earlier, with his declaration that he was the sole beneficial owner of Egrant and that he was holding it as a shelf company for a potential client’?
The Whistle blower, in her allegations, referred to being delegated to take care of a few companies including Egrant and Al Sahra FZCO which belonged to the daughter of the president of Azerbaijan, Leyla Aliyeva and that the name, besides others, stood out for another reason: the payment transactions involving them.
Those payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Al Sahra FZCO, a company in Dubai, which were made between January and March 2016 were always marked as loan payments, and were not made to their accounts at Pilatus Bank but to accounts they, including Egrant, had at a bank in Dubai.
One of the payments allegedly made to Egrant, was so large, over $1 million, that it caused problems when the US correspondent bank stopped it and queried it. An employee of Nexia BT rang several times a day, every day, until it went through.
The details of the happenings and the transactions as alleged by the Whistle blower are synonymous with the norm that, one develops a photographic memory for things that are not run of the mill. In these particular circumstances, where the Whistle blower says that she was responsible for overseeing just 8 to 10 companies specifically earmarked for being given special attention, it is difficult not to remember specific details.
It is also worth noting the repeated chasing of the transaction by Nexia BT, to ensure that the funds were transferred without delay. I ask: ‘why would Nexia BT be so concerned and paternalistic on this transaction of $ 1 million and, if Egrant was owned by Brian Tonna, why did he not follow up this issue himself to keep it secret from his colleagues/employees’?
The whistle-blower alleged that one evening she was instructed to open a bank account for the sister of the Bank Chairman/Owner, Negarin Sadir who runs a women’s fashion clothes business in London (Negarin London Women’s Clothing), and to immediately process a loan to her of $ 1 million. Once the bank account and loan were sorted out, there and then, instructions were received to transfer out around $ 400,000 to a Maltese woman who lives in New York and has a jewellery business called Buttardi. This amount had to be marked as a loan payment.
The Buttardi business venture is a partnership set up in 2003 between Michelle Buttigieg and Michelle Tanti who is now Mrs Michelle Muscat.
Michelle Muscat is the European Marketing Sales and Design representative of Buttardi and her visiting card is on the website up to this day.
Michelle Buttigieg, has been a resident of New York and in 2016, she was appointed as the Malta Tourism Authority’s Representative in New York from where Malta receives around 26,000 tourists annually. Michelle Buttigieg receives a remuneration of Euro 61,000 annually and is also entitled to free air travel and accommodation on MTA marketing trips.
It is strange how a loan of $ 1 million to Negarin Sadir is channelled to her urgently opened account at the Pilatus Bank, and a transfer of $400,000 is immediately transferred out to Michelle Buttigieg of Buttardi and also registered as a loan. I ask: ‘Why was the loan not transferred directly from the remitting bank account to the beneficiary account in New York? Also, how is it that, as far as I am aware, Michelle Buttigieg has never denied the receipt by Buttardi of this alleged loan?
It would be interesting to know whether Michelle Muscat receives any commission on sales of Buttardi jewellery, whether she receives any remuneration and also whether she receives any share of profits, if she still is a partner. If she does receive any such payment/s, are these payments being declared for VAT and income tax purposes’?
Like I have written in various articles on the transactions of Politically Exposed Persons and details of alleged transactions through Pilatus Bank accounts, the word ‘Loan’ is always present both for incoming funds and outgoing funds.
The description ‘Loans’ is the common terminology used in the receipt and payment of kickbacks and in money laundering activities.
It is pertinent to highlight once again that, the Paradise Papers recently exposed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) included no less than 7 million documents of loan transactions.