Ninu Zammit set up secret BVI company to conceal ownership of Swiss millions when he was a government minister in 2005

Published: May 9, 2016 at 11:45pm

When he was Minister for Resources and Infrastructure in the Nationalist government of 2005, Ninu Zammit secretly set up a company in the British Virgin Islands, registered through Mossack Fonseca, so as to conceal the $3.2 million of undeclared money he had been hiding in an account at HSBC’s Private Bank in Switzerland for several years.

He did so to preempt the coming into force in May 2005 of an agreement which Switzerland signed with the European Union for the automatic exchange of information on bank account holders. Zammit’s company, FiveoliveServices Ltd, with a registered address in Israel but incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, was set up on 23 February that year.

He used it to conceal the ownership of the funds in his Swiss bank account, which until that point had been held in his personal name, which is how his ownership of the money came to be revealed in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Swiss Leaks last year.

His profession was given in HSBC Private Bank’s documents as “government minister”, and the banker’s notes detail how he visited the Swiss bank every year, usually with his family.

Shortly before the general election of 2013, Ninu (real name Anthony) Zammit made a surprise, unilateral announcement that he would not be standing for election again. The announcement was not made through the Nationalist Party and there are conflicting reports on whether he had informed his party leader, Lawrence Gonzi, before making the announcement.

After the Swiss Leaks story broke, it was discovered that Zammit had been given an amnesty in 2013 by the incoming Labour government, protecting him from prosecution for tax evasion and allowing him to make free use of that money, including repatriating it to Malta, on payment of a relatively small percentage.

The financial intermediaries who make arrangements for tax amnesties of this nature, on funds concealed from the Maltese authorities in bank accounts outside Malta, are supposed to carry out a thorough due diligence investigation to make sure that the money was not obtained illicitly, through corruption, crime or otherwise laundered. The burden of this investigation is transferred from the state authorities to the intermediary. We do not know whether this was done effectively and there is no information, either, on who the intermediary was.

There have been cases in which financial intermediaries were slapped with punitive fines for facilitating the repatriation to Malta of money that may have been the proceeds of crime or corruption, or otherwise laundered.

Ninu Zammit is never mentioned by the Labour Party or by Joseph Muscat, who always mentions Austin Gatt instead, though Gatt’s funds were a fraction of Zammit’s and legitimately inherited from his father, as well as being declared to the tax authorities. The nature of Zammit’s relationship with Muscat, and Muscat’s behaving as though Zammit was not a Nationalist minister with three million dollars hidden in Switzerland is unclear. Nor do we know why Muscat’s government gave Zammit a tax amnesty – though we can surmise that this is the reason Muscat never mentions him.

ninu zammit