In a case of too little, too late, MFSA was forced to take action against Maltese nationals Brian Tonna (link) and Karl Cini (link). The two directors of Nexia BT, the company involved in major scandals in Malta, were arraigned in courts for money laundering charges, tax evasion, and falsification of documents two years ago. Their accountancy warrants were suspended on 25 September 2020. The MFSA did not elaborate on why it waited so long to act after the duo’s arraignment.
In September 2020, a Maltese court ordered the freezing of assets of Cini, Tonna, his partners, their families, and associated companies. Following that, Nexia BT’s license to sell passports was suspended.
The MFSA’s decision means that Brian Tonna and Karl Cini are now not considered “fit and proper” for any financial services position and that they cannot accept “any new positions including as shareholder in entities or in relation to activities licensed and/or otherwise supervised by the MFSA and which necessitate the approval and/or authorization of the authority.”
The prohibitions remain in place until proceedings are brought to a close: at this stage, the authority will consider whether any revision is required.
The former CEO of MFSA, the disgraced Joseph Cuschieri, who now operates CP Advisory, is a close friend of Brian Tonna. Cuschieri is a well-connected Maltese. He is married to the daughter of Malta’s President George Vella.
At the start of December, the Nationalist Party’s finance spokesperson, MP Jerome Caruana Cilia, had questioned whether people facing criminal proceedings over financial crimes were being allowed to continue holding positions in licensed companies. Until the date of such question, the MFSA did not take any action against Brian Tonna and Karl Cini! They refused to answer any questions, and even when the Maltese Parliament asked, the MFSA looked elsewhere.
The MFSA said it reached its decision on Tonna and Cini on 2 December 2022, though both decisions were only announced on 17 January 2023. This is indeed not the norm and never happened before. The two former Nexia BT partners may appeal the decision before the Financial Services Tribunal.
Tonna and Cini had notoriously been involved in establishing Panamanian companies for former minister Konrad Mizzi, and Keith Schembri, chief of staff to former PM Joseph Muscat, with their role revealed through the Panama Papers leak.
The executive committee of MFSA that is responsible for this mess includes Michelle Mizzi Buontempo, Christopher Buttigieg, Edwina Licari, Michael Xuereb, and Ivan Zammit. These individuals, who enjoy an annual salary of around €100,000 each, do not declare their conflicts of interest to the public. They meet behind closed doors on unannounced dates.
It has been confirmed in the Maltese Parliament that the MFSA pays selected Public Relations and media companies asking for coverage of its own narrative.