Former European Commissioner John Dalli confirmed he is ‘a friend’ of Indian tycoon Vijay Kumar Berlia, yet he denied any involvement in the development project planned on an ecologically sensitive area in Gozo.
Last week, The Shift revealed that Berlia, a multi-millionaire who controls a large international conglomerate of companies involved in various business sectors, was behind a development application submitted to the Planning Authority targeting an ecologically sensitive area.
The development application, fronted by architect Alex Bigeni, proposes to extend and develop a disused quarry on land that includes a protected area.
Answering questions by The Shift, following reports in India of his visit to the country in 2018 in the company of Berlia’s son, Nishant Berlia, Dalli admitted his friendship with the developer but insisted that he had no involvement in drawing him to Malta.
Dalli said he was introduced to Berlia when he first came to Malta more than three years ago. He insisted that he has no business connections with the Dubai-based chairman of The Svran Group, and that he is not involved in his business dealings in Malta.
“I am a friend of Mr Berlia. I am not his consultant. I did not broker any deal for him as he takes his own decisions,” Dalli told The Shift.
This development application immediately raised eyebrows among the Gozitan business community that questioned the interest in a remote part of Gozo.
Speculation among the Gozitan business community pointed towards the involvement of former EU Commissioner John Dalli, who is frequently in Gozo where his visit to India did not go unnoticed.
Dalli denied he was involved in any business dealings with the Indian tycoon, saying Berlia has his own architectural, legal and accounting professionals that help him whenever the need arises.
“Mr Berlia is a friend and was introduced to me when he first came to Malta more than three years ago. He has been coming to Malta for the past years, making his own independent assessment of the country,” Dalli insisted.
The Malta connection
Investigations by The Shift show that Dalli, 72, and still working as a business consultant, is a friend of many of the influential Berlia family members.
In May 2018, Dalli, already retired from politics, paid an official visit to the Apeejay Stya University, situated in New Delhi, India.
The university forms part of Berlia’s business group and is controlled by his wife, Sushma.
During his official visit to the university, Dalli was accompanied by Nishant Berlia, the son of the Indian tycoon, who is a member of the management board of The Svran Group.
Dalli’s visit to the university was given prominence, even though Dalli did not occupy any official role at the time.
In 2019, Berlia registered a commercial company in Malta – BV Enterprises Limited. The company has a Birkirkara address as its registered office and Berlia is the sole owner, director, legal representative and secretary.
He is registered as residing in a flat in Msida.
Last week, The Shift revealed that Berlia had bought some 30,000 square metres of land in Dwejra from Gozitan quarry owners Teddy and Nenu Grima, known as ‘Tal-Giegu’.
The Indian tycoon applied to rehabilitate and carry out “horizontal and vertical extensions” to a disused quarry in the area that has been dormant for decades.
The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has objected to the development stating that it is totally unacceptable from an environmental and ecological point of view. The Planning Authority is still screening the application.
Following The Shift’s revelations, the San Lawrenz local council issued a statement against the proposal and vowed that it would fight this development. The only Labour councillor in the area disassociated himself from the statement that was endorsed by the four PN councillors.
The site, known as Tal-Qattara, is close to Dwejra – a site that is a contender for the title of UNESCO world heritage status.