In a shocking, yet expected turn of events, the assets of Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna were frozen, following a request made by the attorney general after suspicions related to money laundering. This has created a ripple effect as the companies held by these individuals have also been frozen. The assets of Brian Tonna’s close collaborator, Karl Cini, have also been frozen.
The garnishee order was set on bank assets, impacting both the movable and immovable property of a number of people. You might state, that both men could have already transferred a significant amount of proceeds to their family members and thus can still use their assets. Wrong! The freeze also impacts the family members of both Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna.
There was also an agreement between the court and attorney general regardless reasonable suspicion of guilt. Several companies, banks and also other authorities were given twenty-four hours to comply with this order. This means that these individuals and close family members cannot transfer funds, acquire or sell assets.
Such an order freezes the assets of those suspected for forty-five days and may be extended to another forty-five! This freeze comes a few days after a magisterial inquiry has been investigating allegations that Keith Schembri took a kickback worth a hundred thousand Euro on passport sales.
This investigation by the court took place following a leaked FIAU report, which raised concerns in relation to two transactions, of fifty thousand Euro each that were processed between the two via Pilatus bank. The purpose of these transaction was described by both Schembri and Tonna as a repayment of a loan.
To further complicate matters, it was recently reported that the company led by Brian Tonna, Nexia BT, was transferring its operations to another company. It is important to keep in mind that Nexia BT is the same organisation that opened offshore accounts for both Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. This was revealed through an episode which was beyond any form of control for the country, the Panama Papers leak, which took place four years ago. Back then, it was decided by the attorney general, that the servers of Nexia BT should not be seized for the collation of evidence.
Many politicians and commentators argued that this was indeed long overdue, describing the action by the court as being years late. As expected, the Nationalist party has expressed its approval of this freeze, with many arguing that former leader, Dr. Simon Busuttil, as being right in the build-up of the last general election.
These developments have now opened a can of worms. Considering that the freeze has also been extended to the businesses of both Keith Schembri and Brian Tonna, the employees of these companies face several issues, since they cannot receive their salary. It will be interesting to monitor the developments of this locally unprecedented case.