Gozo Grab #3: Ownership registration of large tracts of Nadur land approved within a week despite deed in Latin

To register a piece of land or property as your own at the Land Registry, you need a legitimate deed of ownership, a marked Land Registry map, and a declaration that your submissions are truthful. The Land Registrar then approves the application unless something seems dodgy, amiss or requiring further verification.

In the case of the Nadur land registered by a medieval foundation – upon which dozens of residents have lived for generations, many in their freehold homes – the two applications ticked all the three requirements.

But there was a complication: the extensive land deeds were hundreds of years old and written in Latin (a language the registrars or officials do not understand). And the applications were for a swathe of Nadur land as large as four football grounds on which dozens of houses stood, some with prior registrations.

The question is whether the dozens of houses covered by the application, put in by the lawyer Carmelo Galea on behalf of a 350-year-old foundation called Beneficcju ta Sant Antonio delli Navarra, had anything to do with the medieval foundation.

Several notaries consulted by The Shift and Lovin Malta said this should have rung alarm bells and subjected to further scrutiny before approval.

Instead, the assistant land registrar for Gozo, Marlin Vella, approved the applications within a week.

When asked for his explanation, Vella told this investigation: “I pride myself of (sic) having an efficient and hands-on office, where applications are not kept on hold unnecessarily.”

Speaking in parliament, Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat described the approval of the applications as having been “premature.”

A senior lands official, speaking anonymously, told our investigative team he would not have approved the applications.

Police investigation fizzles

Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat told The Shift and Lovin Malta that people who spoke to him alleged collusion between Vella and Galea, and that Vella, a lawyer, used to work part time for Galea until recently. The two lawyers insist that Vella has not worked for Galea for the last 14 years, and that in recent years Vella was only at Galea’s office as a client.

Galea had represented Vella in a case for compensation on missed payments due to having simultaneously been the registrar of Land Registry and agent director of Public Registry in Gozo. Vella won and the court ordered the government to pay him €74,618.

The parliamentary secretary has passed on allegations of collusion to the police who investigated Vella last summer. The outcome of the investigation is unknown. Well-informed sources said he was also given a transfer order, which he resisted.

Yet the Nadur files were transferred away from Gozo, where Vella remains Head, to Land Registry’s Head Office in Valletta. The national land registrar, Claude Sapiano, has since commissioned professional translations of the Latin deeds.

Scrutiny of these translated documents seems to show a discrepancy of around 2,000 square metres between the size of land granted in the 1737 contract and the size of the area in Galea’s applications.

Vella cites court cases to defend registration

In reply to questions, Vella also partly justified his approval of the applications by writing that he “never had any reason to doubt the veracity of Dr Galea’s applications”, mentioning “several properties” in which the benefice (foundation) had “defended its title successfully in court”.

“These same individuals,” he wrote in an email, “had subsequently lodged applications to cancel previous applications for registration of property in their name, and later bought the property from the same Beneficcju.”

Asked last week which cases he was referring to, Vella mentioned cases at Ta’ Marġa in Qala and reiterated that the “courts decided in favour of the benefice”.

Aerial shot of the cluster of houses at Ta’ Marġa where the property pertaining to the two court cases is situated.

Yet the court never delivered judgement or “decided” on the two cases in question: the cases, in the names of plaintiffs John Mercieca and Michael Xerri, were merely renounced or halted by the plaintiffs in 2018. The lawyer of the two plaintiffs, or residents, was Carmelo Galea.

The two residents, whose ancestors had lived at Ta’ Marġa for more than 120 years, had filed the cause against the Archdiocese, which at the time administered the lands. This changed in 2017 when, in a dramatic turnaround after the Church had spent years arguing in court that it had jurisdiction over the benefice under Canon Law, the Curia suddenly accepted the claim by the Stagno Navarra siblings that they were the descendants of Cosmana Navarra, the noblewoman who had founded the benefice.

The Curia then appointed Stagno Navarra’s nominee for Rector, lawyer Patrick Valentino, who is the partner of Magistrate Rachel Montebello. Valentino then proceeded to take over the defence of the two court cases from the Archdiocese.

Around six months later a company called Carravan Ltd was formed – 60% owned by Dei Conti Holdings Ltd (belonging to the Stagno Navarras) and 20% each by Galea and Carrac Ltd.

Carrac Ltd is in turn owned by retired magistrate Dennis Montebello and his two daughters, including Rachel, the serving magistrate.

 

Carravan Ltd has since acquired developable parcels of land from the benefice under perpetual emphyteusis, which were then in turn passed on to developers. One of these parcels is 400 metres away from Ta’ Marġa, where property magnate Joseph Portelli has already built around 100 flats and has an application for 63 more.

Another is in Nadur, at an area known as Tas-Sajtun, where an application for a block of 71 flats has generated widespread opposition.

A photomontage of the block of 71 flats planned on the land in question that was transferred from the foundation to Carravan, which in turn transferred it to the developer.

At around the same time, Valentino, the Rector, signed a promise of sale agreement (konvenju) of perpetual emphyteusis on the land at Ta’ Marġa with Dei Conti Holdings. Carmelo Galea was the secretary of Stagno Navarras’ company Dei Conti.

This means that while Galea represented the two residents in court, he had gotten into business with the Stagno Navarras who had gotten the land being contested in court via the preliminary agreement. This preliminary agreement was then converted into actual perpetual emphyteusis in May 2018 at a time when the court case was still ongoing.

 

Meanwhile, minutes show the court was told, in one court session after the other for around 16 months, that the parties were negotiating, or due to sign contracts to settle out of court.

Eventually, the residents represented by Galea bought the land subject to litigation, paying a share to the Stagno Navarras and another share to the benefice for perpetual emphyteusis. They forked out a total of €900,000 – €536,000 to the Stagno Navarras and €204,000 to the benefice. The residents then renounced the court case.

Asked to comment on a possible conflict of interest, due to his representation of the residents’ cause and simultaneous business interests with the opposing party, possibly in breach of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Advocates, Galea said he is “precluded from [making] any comments regarding my professional services and especially those that refer to the relationship with any of my clients”.

“However,” he added, “I can assure (you) that I have always been frank and honest with my clients and have always acted throughout with their consent and authorisation”.

This is part of an investigative series being published jointly by The Shift and Lovin Malta about an ongoing land dispute in Gozo. The investigative team had strategic and research input by Caroline Muscat and Chris Peregin. More updates to follow.

                           
                               
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M. Galea
M. Galea
5 months ago

Diga kont semmejt avukat iehor li qed jahdem maghhom u kont qed nirreferi ghal Marlin Vella! Hareg issa prosit ta l investigazzjoni! Kesahlu iehor dan! Fejn hi l pulizija?

M. Galea
M. Galea
5 months ago

Dak hu l avukat l iehor li hemm jahdem maghhom, Marlin Vella kesahlu iehor! Prosit ta l investigazzjonj! Poplu ohrog ghamel rebus ghax hekk ser tibqa tara! Serq ta artijiet li mhiex tagghhom! X misthija! Fejn hi lpulizija? Dan kaz ta korruzzjoni!

Cikku l-poplu
Cikku l-poplu
5 months ago
Reply to  M. Galea

Dr Marlin Vella qal li jkun ghand l-avukat Galea bhala klijent tieghu.
Xi snin ilu, jiena mort maz-ziju tieghi ghand l-avukat Carmelo Galea ghal konsulta. Jien u z-ziju poggejna fuq bank, fil-waiting room, barra l-ufficcju nistennew li nidhlu nkellmu lil avukat Galea. Lil avukat Marlin Vella, rajtu fl-ufficcju ta’ magenb tal-avukat Galea fejn ghandu l-files.
Dan l-avukat Carmelo Galea, mid-dehra lil certu klijenti ma jhallihomx jistennew ghal-ksieh fuq il-bankijiet tal-waiting room imma jhallihom jimirhu fejn ghandu l-files.

M. Galea
M. Galea
5 months ago
Reply to  Cikku l-poplu

Ezatt hi!

Jim Borg
Jim Borg
5 months ago

When is this lawyer Carmelo Galea going to be investigated by the Commission responsibile for ethics of lawyers? He’s got his fingers fully poked in this smelly pie. Can we trust anyone these days? Archbishop, lawyers, magistrates all mixed up in a multi million grab from a benefice of pre Napoleonic times.
F’hiex wasalna!

M. Galea
M. Galea
5 months ago
Reply to  Jim Borg

Ezatt fiex wasalna! Dawn qed jahdmu ezatt bhal politici! L politici jinhbew wara lizviluppaturi u dawn Jinhbew wara Navarras u ovja Navarras qed igawdu maghhom. Tal blih, tal iskantament!!

Steven Bartram
Steven Bartram
5 months ago

Another case of the no public gets shafted by greedy local businessman

MR ADRIAN GOUDER
MR ADRIAN GOUDER
5 months ago

Translated using Google Translate??

J B
J B
5 months ago

L-awtoritau l-gustizzja tiggudika lil Cikku l-poplu imma tezenta lilha nfisha u lil membri taghha mill-ligi nfisha, mill-etika u mill-morali.

Galea u Vella, bhal kull avukat iehor, meta lahqu, halfu halfa li jaqdu dmirhom ghall-gid tal-poplu u ghall-gid komuni.

Nifhem jien, li kif f'xogholijiet ohra jittehidlek l-warrant li jippermettilek tahdem bih f'dak il-qasam jekk ma taghmilx dmirek kif mitlub, hekk ghandu jsir ma dawn (u ohrajn bhalhom issa u fil-futur). Minn hu korrott u frodist mhux postu fil-gustizzja jew f'post ta' awtorita. Apparti li trid investigazzjoni oltre` ukoll li nispera li jssir fuq kull assi li ghandhom.

Fl-ahhar nett, nahseb wasal zmien li certu ‘loopholes’ li jhallu l-avukat ‘jahdem mall-ligi’ imma li jidhru bic-car li jdahhlu kunflitt ta’ interess, jigu reveduti. Qed titkellmu fuq hajjet in-nies! Nafu li intom egoisti u jimpurtakomx min-nies. Biss jekk m’ghandkomx dicenza u kuxjenza li timxu skond il-halfa li hliftu, mela allura ghallinqas nirrevedu l-ligijiet, forsi tigikom id-dicenza u l-kuxenzja li timxu mal-ligi li suppost hi l-‘Bibbja’ taghkom.

Mhux se nghidilkom isthu, ghax tidher cara li ma tafux tisthu – lanqas minn min Hu ikbar minnkom. Dak li qed tghaddu lilkom, lil familtkom u lil uliedkom, hu frott is-serq u ghalhekk mishut! Jekk shabkom fil-gudikatura jahsbu mod iehor, nemmen li hemm Gudikant akbar li jsib tarf ghal halfa falza li ghamiltulU – gheziez Galea, Vella (u kull min jagixxi kontra l-principji u l-morali li suppost jara li jigu obduti). U tibqawx tiffirmaw Dr, ghax jekk li hliftu ma zammejtuhx, il-warrant taghkom null.

U tahsbux li l-poplu ghadu jibza’ u ghadu iblah – la jekk int Avukat, u lanqas jekk Magistrat. U tant iehor, il-poplu ma jibzax minn double-barrels. Ir-rispett ma jigix mall-kliem ta’ qabel jew wara isimkom – jew mit-titlu ta’ xogholkom. Ir-rispett jigi mall-agir u mall-mod kif tezercitaw xogholkom – li jidher bic-car (tghidu x’tghidu) li hu wiehed moqziez u tad-dilettanti.

M. Galea
M. Galea
5 months ago
Reply to  J B

Hekk hu

Gee Mike
Gee Mike
5 months ago

Institutional fraud has been legalised and protect by the authorities more than the truth, lawyers study law to take advantage of people. We seem to be adopting the American judiciary model, where common sense does not prevail.
Unbelievable, I wilould question every land registration, transfer and movement from 2013.
Lands’ become a brothel.

Peter
Peter
5 months ago

Magistrates and Politicians and their families should not have business interests of any sort.

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