Independent candidate Arnold Cassola has requested the National Audit Office (NAO) to investigate the deal struck between the government and Corinthia Group following revelations by The Shift on the price of prime public land given away.
In a statement, Cassola said the NAO had criticised a similar deal struck with DB Group for the land at St George’s Bay. Referring to The Shift’s report, Cassola said such deals are “to the detriment of taxpayers”.
The Shift revealed this week that while the conversion of the land at Hal Ferh to residential units was valued at only €10.3 million, the contract reveals that Corinthia Group will in fact only pay €1.3 million. Payment terms of 10 years were agreed.
The payment terms agreed for the site, which commands unique views of Ghajn Tuffieha, are similar to the deal the Labour government struck with DB Group, which the PN had contested and which resulted in a damning report by the NAO.
“This is a scandalous deal sealed by a government that is giving away public land to sustain private profit,” Cassola said in his letter to the Auditor General.
According to the deed negotiated by Economy Minister Silvio Schembri and the Lands Authority, as yet unsigned, the group of private hotels controlled by the Pisani family will have to fork out only 10% (€1.3 million) of the €10.3 million valuation by the Land Authority, already considered cheap by observers.
Opposition MP Adrian Delia said on social media the deal was “unacceptable”, adding that public land was being given away for free. Questions sent to Opposition Leader Bernard Grech on whether he agrees with this position have not yet been answered.
The deal involves some 30,600 square metres of public land, which was only to be used for touristic purposes, that will now be converted by Corinthia into 25 luxury villas to be sold to millionaires adjacent to its hotel complex.
In addition, the government is also conceding that the rest of the agreed payment, €9 million, will be paid only over 10 years and in small instalments, each and every time Corinthia manages to sell one of its new villas.
The government even conceded to give Corinthia a risk-free investment, inserting a clause in the deed that if the Planning Authority does not issue a valid permit for the development, Corinthia will be given a refund of the payments made for this concession.
The site is already owned by Corinthia on a freehold basis, having taken over the deed from Island Hotels Group when it took over the company in 2015, the group said in a statement. The amount to be paid represents the additional amount requested by the government to convert the use of a section of the area for residential units, each expected to be sold for more than the €1.3 million the company is paying for the conversion of the whole area.