Shareholder of Balluta property says he was 'victim' of PN's mismanagement

'This led to what I owned being taken away from me'

A director and shareholder of 82 Limited, which had acquired property valued by the National Audit Office at €2.4 million for €525,000 said on Tuesday he was a victim of the Nationalist administration’s mismanagement.

The  property had been transferred by the government in the last PN legislature when Jason Azzopardi was the minister responsible for land.

Vincent Farrugia was testifying at the Public Accounts Committee which is hearing the case following a report by the National Audit Office which found irregularities in the transfer.

The land had originally been acquired through the 1992 Church-State Agreement.

Mr Farrugia said that the Nationalist government’s mismanagement had led to what he owned being taken away from him.

He gave his formal deposition in the presence of fellow director and then-attorney Peter Fenech, who confirmed that neither he nor Mr Farrugia had ever met the Minister for Lands to discuss the topic.

Mr Farrugia insisted that he had been the rightful owner of the foreshore at 83, Spinola Road all along, as was clearly stated in the emphyteusis inherited by the former owner. The status of the land as foreshore had itself been questioned by the Commissioner for Lands at the time, during the hearing of the government’s court action against Mr Farrugia.

However, he had respected the outcome of this court action, which called for him to be evicted from the property, and he had abided by and participated in a tendering process intended to resolve the issue by calling for bids.

The property built on 80, 81, 82, and 83, Spinola Road consisted of a nine-floor development including two car parks, several boathouses, and five residential flats, including a penthouse.

Development works had started in 2001 and ceased in 2003 following protests by residents and the local council, and the property remained a shell. The then Malta Environment and Planning Authority had approved several versions of the planned development, and had not called into question the validity of the emphyteusis or Mr Farrugia’s ownership of the foreshore.

It was only when the development had progressed significantly that issues had arisen, he said.

He blamed residents’ protests on the fact that the then-Nationalist administration had promised boathouses to various persons in the area, promises which were not kept.

Following the 2009 refusal of an appeal filed in the wake of the court order evicting him from the foreshore, he had not met with Lands Minister Jason Azzopardi as the Nationalist administration had only “kicked [him] to the curb” and “stolen [his] land” after making use of his expertise on various occasions.

He had only met the three architects who had been appointed to mediate a fair price for the property, one of whom was Dr Fenech. If any political interference was involved, its effect was only to raise the price being demanded by the Lands Department, following this mediation, from €300,000 to €525,000.

Mr Farrugia insisted that he was “not a speculator” and that whatever property he purchased was solely for his own use. However, the government MPs present pointed out that this assertion jarred with the fact that he had admitted, when asked by MP Robert Abela, that he intended to earn around €10 million from the sale of the property in a shell state, although he had not yet received any offers. For the penthouse alone, he expected to earn €1.6 million.

Dr Abela also pointed out that the €10 million return that Mr Farrugia was envisaging was only possible because of the various mishandlings that had led to him being sold 83, Spinola Road and the adjoining foreshore.

The tender seemed to have been “tailor-made” for him. “If this is what it means to be mistreated by the Nationalist Party, sign me up,” Dr Abela said. Furthermore, if his antipathy towards the Nationalist Party was genuine, why had he used the services of Dr Fenech, lawyer to Zaren Vassallo and, on occasion, to the Nationalist party?

Mr Farrugia also informed the Committee that, following a phone call from the Lands Department earlier on Tuesday, he had committed to pay the full arrears by the end of the year.

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