As more news emerges on the intricate web of corruption in projects by the Labour administration, it is important to remember that those connected to the assassination of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who first exposed Macbridge and 17 Black, had their hands in several deals connected with this administration and the corruption that claimed her life.
My submissions to the public inquiry looking into Caruana Galizia’s assassination focused on the owner of 17 Black, suspected mastermind Yorgen Fenech, and the deal he was granted when he wanted to build a high rise, but Malta’s existing planning laws wouldn’t let him.
As we’ve learned from the public inquiry, laws were never an obstacle for the businessman with intimate connections to Castille.
The area Fenech was targeting lay in the Mriehel industrial area, but the government’s 2013 Planning Policy Guide on the Use and Applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) specified buildings over 10 storeys high were limited to five specific locations: Marsa, Qawra, Gzira, Paceville and Tigne’.
Official visitor’s records from the early months of 2014 show Fenech was a frequent guest at Castille, where he met with Konrad Mizzi twice and Keith Schembri once to lobby for the many projects he was involved in.
He seems to have hit pay dirt when he met Parliamentary Secretary for Planning Michael Farrugia on 5 March 2014. Their meeting lasted for just 26 minutes — 9.27am to 9.53am — but that same day, Farrugia ordered the CEO of the Planning Authority to include Mriehel in the policy for high rise buildings.
Despite objections from within the Planning Authority itself that this was not acceptable, since the request from the Minister came six weeks after the closing date for consultation, the Planning Authority led by Johann Buttigieg rubber stamped it.
Farrugia has vehemently denied discussing the change with Fenech and said anyone who alleged otherwise was lying, but his decision meant the project could move forward.
Six months later, on 16 September 2014, Tumas Gasan Holdings Ltd filed application PA 581/16 to build four high rise towers on a site in Mriehel. They planned to demolish an existing dilapidated structure to excavate the ground and construct a reservoir and car park for a massive complex that would have mixed commercial uses, including a supermarket and a showroom.
PA 581/16 was approved on 4 August 2016 by the Planning Authority Board, led by CEO Johann Buttigieg – Joseph Muscat’s pawn.
The planning permit clearly stated that it would not become executable and that works could not begin until Tumas-Gasan entered into an agreement with Transport Malta regarding the upgrade of road infrastructure in the area:
“The executable permission shall not be issued prior to the applicant submits to the Planning Authority, clearance from Transport Malta confirming that the agreement, as outlined in supporting document PA 581/16/46B […] has been finalised and signed.”
The conditions were that:
(a) the amount of financial contribution owed by the applicant for the holistic upgrading of road infrastructure along the sections of network bordering the Mriehel Enterprise Hub and
(b) the implementation of the provision of home-work-home collective transport for the employees for a period of not less than five years
This is when Transport Malta CEO James Piscopo, another Joseph Muscat appointee, stepped in to facilitate Fenech’s project with a decisive lie.
In official correspondence issued on 25 October 2016, Transport Malta stated that it had already entered into an agreement with Tumas-Gasan regarding the financial contribution to be made by the developer for infrastructural works.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request, I discovered that the agreement was actually signed with the developers on 10 November 2016 – 15 days after Transport Malta’s false declaration. Clearance was given for the work to begin on the basis of that agreement.
Why was Transport Malta prepared to lie to ensure Tumas-Gasan could start building?
Transport Malta went to further pains to make things even easier for the consortium. The conditions imposed in the 10 November letter consisted of a €50,000 infrastructure contribution and some additional fees, payable only after Transport Malta completed a Master Plan for the Mriehel Business District.
Transport Malta still hasn’t compiled this Master Plan nearly five years after the letter was drafted, and there’s no evidence of it to this day. The Quad Towers are being built, and the Tumas-Gasan Group wasn’t even made to pay the measly €50,000 for the required infrastructure.
This was confirmed in an article dated 31 January 2021 published by Malta Today where Quad Towers CEO Catherine Halpin confirmed that no contribution has been paid to date, despite the building works having started long before.
This lack of holistic planning means the entire area must bear the burden of infrastructure built to service the Quad Towers, simply because Transport Malta has delayed the compilation of its Master Plan.
Tumas-Gasan was given further special treatment when the Quad Towers was designated a Special Designated Area, allowing both EU and non-EU nationals the same acquisition rights as Maltese citizens, without an AIP (Acquisition of Immovable Property) permit.
While the majority of Malta’s Special Designated Areas are geared towards residential property development, the Quad is one of a handful that focuses exclusively on commercial real estate. The potential profit margins are enormous.
The infamous Central Link was created to service the four towers, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of mature trees, some 50,000 square metres of agricultural land, and the livelihood of a number of farming families in the Attard area.
Minister Ian Borg and Infrastructure Malta CEO Frederick Azzopardi continue to contradict themselves with regard to the flyover that will destroy even more agricultural land in the Qormi-Mrieħel area — all to satisfy the infrastructure needs of the Tumas-Gasan group and their high rise.