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db Group denies St Julian’s land deal breached EU state aid rules

After European Commission is asked to invalidate ITS deal investors say land was sold in a ‘transparent’ way

Photomontage of project as viewed from Saint George's beach.
Photomontage of project as viewed from Saint George's beach.

The db Group said it had “nothing to hide and nothing to fear” over the deal which saw government sell 25,000 square metres of public land for a nominal price of €60 million.

This week, former Alternattiva Demokratika chairperson Arnold Cassola called on the European Commission to invalidate the sale of public land in St Julian’s to Silvio Debono’s db Group given that the deal deprived the Maltese state coffers of some €150 million.

Welcoming the European Commission’s scrutiny, the company insisted that the land was sold in a “transparent” way.

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.”

But db Group said there was nothing wrong with the deal, insisting that “for the first time in Maltese history, the market value of public land has been set by an auditing firm of global reputation, namely Deloitte.”

The company will be effectively paying less as the land was passed over to it on a 99-year emphyteusis and will see the company pay 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.

Boasting of the “largest private investment by an individual in Maltese history” db Group said that the same formula should be used for the sale of public land for other projects in the area.

“Comparisons with the Corinthia Group’s proposal for the site literally adjacent to ours and that for White Rocks should be particularly enlightening. Transparency, justice and the rule of law require no less,” the group’s CEO Arthur Gauci said.

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