Former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola is calling on the European Commission to invalidate the sale of public land in St Julian’s to Silvio Debono’s db Group.
Last year, government concluded a €60 million deal for the transfer of the 25,000 square metre site formally occupied by the Institute of Tourism Studies, to hotelier Silvio Debono of db Group.
Cassola has initiated a petition asking the European Commission to invalidate the deal given that it constitutes state aid.
The land was given to db Group on a 99-year emphyteusis who in real terms will be paying a €15 million premium payable over seven years, and €23.4 million for the redemption of ground rent on individual residences included in the project.
A further €11 million included in the €60 million price tag will not be actually paid, but represents the present-day capitalised value of ground rents that will be paid over 99 years.
The petition reads; “The market value of the site in question is quoted, in the Government’s own masterplan, as being that of €8,500 per square metre ie. 204 million Euro for the land in question, as opposed to the few tens of millions price negotiated by the Maltese Government.”
Earlier this month, Green MEP Ska Keller raised the issue of a possible breach of EU State aid rules in the European Parliament. In reply to her question, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said if public land is sold to private investors at a price which is less than the market price, this constitutes state aid.
The Commission said it is not in a position to pronounce itself on whether the transfer resulted in the grant of State aid given that “the transfer of the ITS land has not been notified yet by the Maltese authorities, nor has any competitor of San Ġorg Property Ltd – the db Group company awarded the land – submitted a complaint in relation to the transfer.”
The petition notes that the deal not only deprived the Maltese state coffers of around €120-150 million but also caused “environmental and social damage which will directly and profoundly impact the quality of life of around 8% of the whole Maltese population, i.e. the around 30,000 inhabitants of the towns of Pembroke, Swieqi and St. Julian’s.”
Petitioners must include their full name, citizenship and permanent address.
Objectors to file appeal
This will allow residents, eight NGOs and three Local Councils (Pembroke, St. Julian’s and Swieqi) to undertake legal actions to challenge the Planning Authority’s decision. Legal actions include, but are not limited to, an appeal with the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (EPRT).
The project was approved by the Planning Authority despite some 4,500 people formally objected to the project.
One of the 10 Planning Authority board members who voted in favour of the project board member Jacqueline Gili was flown into Malta from a family holiday in Sicily on a private jet at the expense of taxpayers.
Another board member, Matthew Pace, owns a real estate agency that was selling the project’s apartments at a time when there was no planning permit and the land still belonged to the public.