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The presence of the lawyer Carmelo Galea in a hearing of the Planning Commission, in which he introduced himself as “the applicant” for a block of 51 flats, has led to further disquiet among objectors after the Planning Authority’s apparent dismissal of a judicial protest by four NGOs.

In the judicial protest, the NGOs called on the PA to dismiss the application over ownership issues after four residents had written to the PA that they are owners of parts of the site on which the development would take place. Yet last Wednesday’s hearing went ahead, a sign that the PA paid no heed to the judicial protest.

The decision on the application was still deferred on technicality after Astrid Vella of the NGO Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar pointed out that photomontages of the project had not been put on the online system for public viewing.

The block of 51 flats, perched on a side of a valley in Nadur, is set to dominate the view from miles around.

The application was put in by Victor Hili of Titan Developments Limited 13 months ago, who declared at the time to be “an owner of the entire site.” But 4 individuals claimed to be owners of part of the site, and Hili later amended the application form, in which he declared: “I am not an owner the entire site, but I am authorized to carry out such proposed development through an agreement with the owner.”

The 4 NGOs – Moviment Graffitti, Ghawdix, Flimkien Ghal Ambjent Ahjar, Din L-Art Helwa Ghawdex – then argued in the judicial protest that the applicant had not satisfied questions over land ownership to the level of ‘certification’ required in planning law. They then called on the PA to dismiss the application.

Yet the PA pressed on with hearing the application, a decision that may fly in the face of the teaching of a judgment of the Court of Appeal.

The lawyer Carmelo Galea, who appeared as “the applicant”, also has other roles. He is director and part-owner of Carravan Company Limited, which got the land on emphyteutical lease from the medieval foundation, the Fondazzjoni Ta Sant Antonio Delli Navarra; he is the lawyer of the foundation itself; and he has appeared as the lawyer of Titan Developments Limited, the applicant, according to sources.

Carravan leased the land from the foundation in August of 2018 for €35,500 yearly. The perpetual emphyteutical lease is “redeemable” (when it can be converted into ownership) after 20 years. Carravan is owned by Galea, the Montebello family – including serving magistrate Rachel Montebello, partner of foundation rector Patrick Valentino – and 6 Stagno Navarra siblings who claim to be descended from the foundation foundress.

Lovin Malta has reported extensively about how large developable foundation lands have been transferred to Carravan by Valentino, who was appointed rector of the foundation by Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

Valentino started the procedure to transfer the land at Tas-Sajtun to Carravan approximately a year after the archbishop “renounced the right” to consent to land transfers that had been vested in him by the foundation’s foundress. The foundress, Cosmona Navarra, set up the foundation “for all future time” in 1675 to raise money for pious deeds.

Judging from answers by the PA in response to questions from Lovin Malta, it appears that Carravan has since signed a preliminary agreement, otherwise known as promise of sale agreement, with Titan over Tas-Sajtun.

Carravan had made a similar arrangement on larger block of flats at Ta Ghar Boffa in Qala with Excel Investments Limited, which is majority-owned by Joseph Portelli and two other partners, a company of the Agius brothers and another of Daniel Refalo’s. Carravan then started selling flats at Ta Ghar Boffa off-plan directly to buyers, passing on the burden of the groundrent either to buyers or to the contractor/developer, Excel. Notarial source said that the buyers might then have also signed separate agreements with Excel for delivery of the flat in shell state. The preliminary agreement was eventually made good.

In this way, Carravan made millions while keeping its outlays small.

Lovin Malta wrote to Carmelo Galea to ask whether Carravan intends to adopt the same model at Tas-Sajtun, where it also stands to make millions. He was also asked whether his multiple roles – lawyer of the foundation; lawyer of contractor or developer; part-owner and director of Carravan; now also the applicant – are compatible, or if there are any conflict of interests.

He replied: “This is a private matter which does not concern you at all.”

The foundation also made a separate deal with another company belonging to Titan’s Victor Hili and his partner, called Road Construction Limited, on a quarry at the tip of Qala around 6km away from Tas-Sajtun.

In a contract signed in September of 2018, the foundation granted a piece of land approximately the size of a football ground for quarrying. The contract specified that Road Construction had to pay yearly ground rent as well as an advance of €330,500 for the initial 83,000 cubic metres of rock to be quarried.

This contract was then used to apply to register the land at the Land Registry under ownership of the foundation.

Sources have now told Lovin Malta that much of the rock on this land had already been quarried by another quarry operator, Salvu Mintoff & Sons. Although this claim could not be independently verified, the land in question does fall within the site plans of a cluster of PA planning applications by Salvu Mintoff & Sons, which request extensions to the quarry as well as sanctioning of illegal quarrying.

The foundation challenged the latest permit on quarrying to be granted to Salvu Mintoff & Sons in front of the tribunal that hears appeals to PA permits. One of its arguments was that the applicant had made a false declaration of ownership. The foundation also made this argument in separate attempts to revoke the permit. The outcome of the revocation proceedings is not known. As for the appeal, the foundation failed to appear for two consecutive sittings, and the tribunal dismissed the case.

Lovin Malta asked foundation rector Patrick Valentino whether the land granted to Road Construction had already been quarried by Salvu Mintoff & Sons as alleged by sources, and whether Road Construction has indeed paid the advance of €330,500 upon signing the contract.

He said that the foundation is a “private entity and its dealings are purely private matters”, and that “all its transactions do not involve any state funds, land or intervention and hence far beyond public interest and scope.” He also said the questions “may even breach your journalistic code of ethics” and that “you might have some ulterior motive.”

“Please be advised,” he added, “that should this harassment on your part persist the Abazzija [foundation] will seek all legal remedies available in a Court of Law, the only competent forum to address private grievances.”

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