Continues from part 1 in this series, linked here.
I would like to begin this article by highlighting once again that court appointed experts Harbinson Forensics state that:
- “The emails of Pilatus Bank are stored on the cloud and are not available to us;
- “We found only one Egrant related item not found elsewhere. This was at the Nexia BT offices, and it was a small system file which indicated an external memory device, possibly a USB, which had been attached to a laptop and contained a subfolder called Egrant. There is no further evidence to show what the folder contained, or to identify the memory device. It does raise the possibility that there were digital files in relation to Egrant which were not held or copied onto the digital devices seized. Its present whereabouts is unknown.”
In reading the article and the various conclusions in the report, it is important to keep the above in view. It is also important not to exclude the possibility that a parallel IT/data system may have been running, both at Pilatus Bank and at the Nexia BT offices. Parallel systems are known to be used as a tool in scenarios of confidentiality/secrecy and suspicious transactions linked to politically exposed persons. Point 2 above may be one such pointer.
The truth always depends on the economic crime investigators, their teams, and their response time in accessing the data banks to seize data and to prevent data from being corrupted and/or alienated. The judge ‘per se’, is always dependent on the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mantra.
Who owns Egrant?
In point 90 on page 1223 of their report, Harbinson list 14 companies having their address at BTI Management Ltd (Brian Tonna/Karl Cini). Of these, 10 are registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and 4 in Panama. Of those registered in the BVI, 8 have as their ultimate beneficial owner (UBO), Keith Schembri (Colson), Malcolm Scerri (Selson), Adrian Hillman (Lester Holdings), Brian Tonna as SPX Services, Brian Tonna/Nexia BT (Willerby Trade), Pierre Sladden (Blue Sea Portfolio), Cheng Chen (Torbridge Services) , and 3 seemingly unrelated individuals. The 4 companies registered in Panama have as their declared UBO, Brian Tonna (Egrant), Konrad Mizzi (Hearnville), Keith Schembri (Tillgate) and a certain Pereira (Real Trade Investments/Investments Global Corp).
It is interesting to note that Egrant, Hearnville and Tillgate, were registered in July 2013, while the company belonging to Pereira was registered on 10 December 2015.
It is significant that, Brian Tonna kept justifying that he registered Egrant as a ‘shelf company’, and held it in his name until a client requested a company in Panama without having to wait for the formal setting up. When client Pereira cropped up in December 2015, that is 29 months later, he did not offer him Egrant, for which he had already paid $4,072 up to that date, and eventually another $2,364 until its liquidation in July 2017.
It is also significant that no further companies seem to have been registered in Panama by Nexia BT and this raises the question as to why Panama was chosen as the jurisdiction for the triplets Egrant, Hearnville and Tillgate. In fact, on point 114 on page 1231, Harbinson comment that the setting up of these three companies in Panama was therefore a departure from the usual practice of Nexia BT to register companies in BVI.
- In point 92, page 1225, Harbinson state that the digital data seized appears to contain files in relation to many of these entities and we are happy to investigate further if required.
- In point 93, page 1225, they state that a search of the online Panama Papers database also reveals a further 42 “namesake” companies, including Egrant Capital S.A and Egrant Capital Assets S.A.
- In point 94, page 1225, they state that the similar names of Egrant and other “namesakes” may simply be a coincidence. However, we observe a surprising number of common links (dates of incorporation, addresses, and dates struck off).
- In point 96, page 1225, they state that they also note that Mr Cini stated (starting page 10 of his testimony) that only three companies were set up in Panama – he appears to have overlooked that Real Trade Investments Global Corp was also set up there (he referred to it as being set up in BVI). He also stated that he could only recall setting 4 BVI companies – Comerco, Durielle, Real Trade Investments (Pereira), and Willerby; he did not mention Colson, Selson, Lester, SPX, Blue Sea, Torbridge or Berdil.
Magistrate Bugeja, in his conclusions point 7.1 on page 1459, includes the above point 96 in his conclusion, with other instances regarding Karl Cini, by stating: “Għaldaqstant il-Kummissarju tal-Pulizija għandu jinvestiga dawn id-diskrepanzi fix-xhieda ta’ Karl Cini stante li kif irrizulta mill-provi dokumentarji aktar ‘il fuq imsemmija juru li jista’ jkun hemm prima faciae (sic) ġurament falz da parti tiegħu.”
In brief, the magistrate said that Karl Cini’s discrepancies should be investigated by the Police for possible perjury.
While the report was published on 20 July 2018, I am unaware of any action having been taken by the Police up to the present date, that is 22 months later.
In point 123 on page 1233, Harbinson state that one has to be aware that there would have been other means of communication taking place between Nexia BT and Mossack Fonseca during the period, once Adrian Dixon, an employee of Mossfon moved to the offices of Nexia BT on 7 April working alongside Karl Cini.
Also, in point 124, Harbinson state that the paper trail, based solely on emails, is not 100% reliable, as the emails refer to couriers hand delivering documents which are not always attached to the emails, and hard copies may have been placed on physical files without being scanned or copied onto the Nexia BT computer system.
In point 138 on page 1236, Harbinson confirm that the Nexia BT data also contains the email from Karl Cini to Luis Quiel of Mossack Fonseca on 25 March 2013, which states: “I presume the information and documents you sent me relate to the setup of the new company in Panama and for the Trust. We will prepare the requested information but the UBO will not be Nexia BT. It will be an individual and I will speak to Luis on skype to give him more detail.”
It is highly suspicious as to why Karl Cini had to communicate the name via Skype, if the intended owner, Brian Tonna, was sitting next to him in the same offices. It is also questionable why Karl Cini did not wait till 7 April to communicate the name directly to Adrian Dixon and avoid the name being divulged on Skype. One has also to question the urgency, if it were true that Egrant was never allocated to a client, but retained in the name of Brian Tonna up to the date of its Liquidation in 2017.
In view of the fact that Jacqueline Alexander’s alleged forged signature on the declarations of trust is one of the issues in this inquiry report, it is pertinent to mention that on 7 May 2013, she was appointed by Keith Schembri as director on his BVI company Colson, on which date, his shares were immediately transferred to ATC Administrators Inc – point 147 on page 1238. This shows the close business relationship between Keith Schembri and Jacqueline Alexander, so much so, that he appointed her as his nominee director, even though she lived in Panama and the company’s set up was in the BVI.
Point 159 on page 1240, states that on 9 August 2013, the Egrant case update is marked “Acquisition”. It may be of interest that the Egrant company is purchased on its own, not in the batch of 3 in which it had been ‘reserved’. The enquiries about cost and prices are therefore specific to Egrant and might imply that a client is enquiring as to these costs. One might assume that if this were simply a case of purchasing a ‘shelf’ company, then Nexia would have known all prices which they had agreed upon only months previously in their terms of business with Mossfon, on the opening of their office in Malta.
In Point 160 on page 1241, Harbinson state: “we can also observe in these emails the process whereby Mossack Fonseca create a constant stream of readily available shelf companies which they can provide at very short notice. We would question therefore why Karl Cini chose to specifically purchase Egrant on 31 July 2013? It seems to us that he must have had a client in mind when doing this. Why not make an arrangement for Nexia BT to have a number of shelf companies available on request?”
Point 161 on page 1241 states that, on 9 August 2013, there is a copy of a declaration of trust for Egrant signed by ATC Administrators Inc, stating that they hold the shares in favour of Brian Tonna. (“We note that the only copy of this document we found in the data, was attached to an email of Karl Cini dated 24 February 2017”).
On 15 July 2014, point 186, page 1246, there is an email from Karl Cini to Luis Quiel, which states: “As Luis might know, we have 3 Panama companies registered with you. We are now close to start using them and the BO has asked us to look into establishing an additional layer on top of the companies instead of a nominee shareholding… What I need to know is whether an individual who is married can enter into a trust without his wife having to sign the deed as well. Additionally, I need to have an update on the process and costs of opening a bank account for the existing panama companies we have and one for the trust (assuming we do it in New Zealand) …”
In Point 187 on page 1247, Harbinson state that it is notable that he makes no distinction between the three Panama companies and is apparently looking to set up trusts and bank accounts for all three.
The request for information as to whether an individual who is married can enter a trust without his wife having to sign the deed as well could indicate that Brian Tonna was holding the company for Joseph Muscat and that Joseph Muscat would not wish to involve Michelle Muscat. If the company was owned by Brian Tonna, I don’t think that, as a practicing professional and the owner of other offshore structures, he did not know the answer. Obviously, Joseph Muscat would have wanted to hear it from independent sources.
My next article in this series will carry on from this point and will start with what Harbinson Forensics describe as “the start of a period of high activity”.