The application for 71 flats on fields on the outskirts of Nadur, which has received a record number of objections, is part of a broader collaboration between the owners of a road building company and the medieval foundation that has been registering vast lands in Gozo, The Shift and Lovin Malta can reveal.
It is the second deal made with the foundation by the applicants, Victor Hili and Joseph Grima of Titan Development Ltd, on foundation land.
In an earlier deal, in September 2018, another company owned by Grima and Hili, called Road Construction Limited, leased a piece of land as large as a football ground on the coast of Qala for quarrying.
The stretch of remote Qala coast, just over two kilometres east of the location of the site for the flats in Nadur, has been hollowed out by quarrying and in the past seven years targeted for the development of a yacht marina, cruise liner port and villas.
At the time of writing, almost a thousand people had registered objections with the Planning Authority against the development of 71 flats and 74 underlying garages – a five-storey block that towers over sloping farmland.
This makes the number of objectors among the highest-ever for a development in Gozo.
A heartfelt video appeal by a young woman from Nadur complaining about the development led to a strong reaction.
A new sense of outrage has gripped Nadur in recent weeks due to the proposed block of flats as well as the foundation asking homeowners, in another part of Nadur it has registered as its own, to pay sums of up to €70,000 to get land on which their houses sit deregistered at the Land Registry.
On Friday, Opposition Leader Bernard Grech visited the affected homeowners in Nadur.
Prime Minister Robert Abela visited the homeowners a year ago, and yesterday he again visited a café in Nadur, where a group of half a dozen residents met him to air their grievances.
Parliamentary Secretary Alex Muscat has also said in parliament on various occasions that the government is seeking ways to revoke the registrations in central Nadur.
Land Registry officials have said there are no legal grounds to revoke the registrations by the foundation, and politicians are washing their hands of the situation. This leaves it up to the courts to decide the rightful owners, at great distress to the families.
The joint investigation by The Shift and Lovin Malta has lifted the lid on acquisitions of vast lands in eastern Gozo by the medieval foundation.
The foundation, called Beneficcju ta Sant Antonio delli Navarra, was set up by noblewoman Cosmana Navarra in 1675 to raise money for religious deeds from leases of these lands in Gozo.
In 2017, the Archbishop appointed as rector the nominee of the Stagno Navarra siblings who declared they are descendants of Cosmana. Prior to that, the foundation was administered by priests for decades.
In the same year, the Archbishop also renounced the faculty to approve the granting of lands through emphyteusis, leaving it solely in the hands of the appointed rector – Patrick Valentino.
Valentino, a lawyer, is also the partner of magistrate Rachel Montebello.
The next year, the foundation transferred two large areas that partly fall within the development zone to Carravan Company Limited, a company owned by the Stagno Navarras, lawyer Carmelo Galea, and a company of the Montebellos, Carrac Ltd, in which sitting magistrate Rachel Montebello is a shareholder.
Among these lands is an area called Tas-Sajtun, where the proposed 71 flats are located. Another is Ta’ Għar Boffa in Qala, where property magnate Joseph Portelli and associates are building over 150 flats on a large piece of land acquired from the company Carravan.
The Planning Authority approved the latest permit for the development at Ta’ Għar Boffa for the remaining 63 flats last Tuesday, despite compelling circumstantial evidence that the project was put in under different names in four separate applications to evade a potential Environment Impact Assessment.
Carravan acquired Tas-Sajtun, which is almost as large as four football pitches, on 3 August 2018 for an emphyteutical lease of €35,500 annually, which can be converted into full ownership after 20 years.
The 71-flat development application by Titan Developments falls on the portion of the land at Tas-Sajtun that is mostly within the development zone. It is not known what agreement exists between Carravan and Titan on the land, but Victor Hili, who filed the development application on behalf of Titan, declared he is the “owner of the entire site” in the application form.
Sources said the flats in Nadur mark the first time that Hili and his colleague Joseph Grima – owners of Titan as well as Road Construction Ltd – will develop property. In the past, they have been involved mostly in road building and quarrying.
The duo also made a deal with the foundation on the quarry zone in Qala, which falls on land the foundation has registered. There are two quarry operators on that stretch of coast at the easternmost tip of Gozo, one belonging to Road Construction Ltd and an adjacent one belonging to Salvu Mintoff & Sons Ltd.
In the deal on 17 September 2018, the foundation leased Road Construction Ltd a piece of land as large as a football ground for 25 years at an annual ground rent of €3,888 as well as €4 for every cubic metre of mined hard stone. According to the contract, Road Construction was bound to pay an advance fee of €330,500 for the first 83,000 square metres of stone to be mined.
Prior to this deal, when the foundation was under the control of the Archdiocese, Road Construction Ltd had locked horns in court battles with the Archdiocese, which had attempted to evict them from the quarry area. The Archdiocese lost that case.
In a further twist, the land leased to Road Construction Ltd in 2018 overlaps with land leased to Salvu Mintoff & Sons in an emphyteutical agreement going back to 1998.
Yet Road Construction Ltd then attempted to impose a warrant of prohibitory injunction on Salvu Mintoff & Sons. It lost the injunction bid, and it has now sued for damages in the civil court.
In court, Salvu Mintoff & Sons are now battling a pincer movement: the lawsuit by Road Construction and a second lawsuit to evict them from the quarry filed by Patrick Valentino on behalf of the foundation. Valentino filed the lawsuit two weeks after the foundation leased the land to Road Construction.
The interest in the Qala coast, already hollowed out, goes beyond quarrying. In the emphyteutical contract granting Road Construction Ltd the quarry, the foundation specified that the emphyteusis would be terminated in the event of “issuance of any permit for flats, villas, hotels, shops or any structures for a project of maritime nature”.
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.