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Landmark judgment means Villa St Ignatius developers, PA unit head could face jail

Court ruled that works violated court order

The Planning Authority's head of enforcement along with a developer and architect could face possible prison time and hefty fines over the demolition of the historic Villa St Ignatius in St Julian's, a court ruled in landmark judgment on Friday.

A court ruled that the demolition of a large part of the historic landmark had violated a court order previously given.

The Registrar of the Court has been called upon to initiate contempt of court proceedings against the PA's enforcement chief, developer Paul Gauci and his architect Stephen Vancell.

If found guilty, they could face a hefty fine and/or imprisonment.

The villa in Scicluna Street is part of a larger property which once housed the first Jesuit's College in Malta, and which was mentioned as a landmark building in an 1839 account of Malta.

Workers were recorded demolishing part of the villa over the course of nearly a week last November and December, just days after NGO Din L-Art Ħelwa had applied for the building to be scheduled.

Watch: Workers send Villa St Ignatius structure crashing down

The shocking video showed parts of the iconic building being reduced to rubble.
The PA took no action to halt the demolition and later issued a statement stating that the work was carried out under a court order handed down in June.

The NGO, represented by lawyer Franco Vassallo, argued that the court order had provided only for the removal of dangerous structures and required all work to be carried out under the supervision of a court-nominated architect, who has said he was never notified.

“The developer went ahead and demolished the building without supervision,” Dr Vassallo told Times of Malta.

The NGO claimed that PA executive chairman Johann Buttigieg and enforcement director Mario Scicluna had failed to stop the works and had stated that the case had been investigated and found to be in line with the conditions - when this was manifestly not the case.

Dr Vassallo said the judgement had "enormous" ramifications and the people involved should resign.

While PA head Johan Buttigieg was not found in contempt of court, Dr Vassallo said, the court had found that his actions throughout the affair had been “unacceptable”.

The court ruling, he said, called into question Mr Buttigieg’s position at the helm of the authority.

Watch: Workmen hack at Balluta landmark with impunity

Timeline

June 2017: Court order allows removal of dangerous structures and other remedial works at the villa, with all works had to be carried out under the supervision of a court-nominated architect.

November 29, 2017: Din L-Art Ħelwa and residents suspect that something is up and ask for whole building to be scheduled.

December 2, 2017: Workers started to hack away at part of the building, laying down tools when told to do so by the Planning Authority, but going straight back to work once he had left.

January 11, 2018: Planning Authority turns down a request to schedule the villa.

February 17, 2018: Din L-Art Ħelwa requests court to rule on whether contempt of court proceedings should be taken against the Planning Authority and developers.

April 11, 2018: Developers apply to create a public square cutting right through the remaining part of the historic building.

Statement by PG Plc

In a statement, PG plc clarified that, Mr Paul Gauci, the majority shareholder and executive vice-chairman of the company, has no connection to the development referred to above.

 

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