Clint Scerri, the government official at the Lands Authority embroiled in the 2015 Gaffarena property expropriation scandal, was recently spotted on social media vaunting what looks like a Maserati Ghibli model – a car that costs anywhere between €22,000 for a well-used second hand model and €100,000 when bought straight out of the showroom.
Scerri, who was once declared ‘king of Lands’ on social media when he was a Lands Authority official in a position of trust given to him by then-parliamentary secretary for lands Michael Falzon, was outed as the go-between Falzon and Mark Gaffarena.
The luxury car in the picture, which sees him perched on the bonnet in dark sunglasses, bears a personalised number-plate with the initials CS. His connections with Gaffarena and Falzon, considering the large sums of money that would be required to purchase and maintain such a vehicle, raise questions about the provenance of his unexplained wealth, given that he was previously employed as a public official.
Gaffarena, a businessman who has repeatedly hit the headlines for backroom dealings with people in power, stood to make a killing off the 2015 deal which was exposed on 31 May of that year by The Shift News’ founder Caroline Muscat, when she was working as a senior journalist at the Times of Malta.
Had the reports not exposed the deal, leading to its eventual cancellation in March 2018, Gaffarena would have made €685,000 in pure profit from his purchase of property shares in a building in Old Mint street that were then expropriated through the office of the President and sold to the government for an exorbitant mark-up.
At the time the deals were occurring, Scerri was often seen in company with Gaffarena at the government’s property division. This raised serious questions about the proximity of a government person-of-trust and a businessman whose family was known for operating outside of the confines of the law, as exemplified by their penchant for illegally built petrol stations.
Falzon had defended Scerri’s links with Gaffarena and insisted repeatedly that nothing illegal was occurring, playing down the notion that corruption was afoot despite the undeniably questionable nature of the facts exposed by the original 2015 report.
Gaffarena bought the first quarter-share of the Old Mint property for €23,294 in December 2007. In January 2015, the President’s office expropriated the share, meaning that the government essentially bought it back from Gaffarena, except that it paid him back a total of €822,500 in land and cash with no reasonable explanation.
The land that was awarded to Gaffarena by way of compensation for the expropriation was strategically located near developments which were owned by Gaffarena, a total of about 10 football pitches’ worth of land. Two of these parcels of land were located a few metres away from Gaffarena’s illegally built ‘Cavett place’ in Qormi.
Just a month later, Gaffarena bought another quarter of the property for €139,762, with an expropriation occurring just two months later, in April 2015, in a process that usually takes months, if not years, to finalise. Two days later, the government generously dished out another €822,500 in land and cash.
In March 2016, Scerri was once more in the public spotlight after a sworn statement made to the National Audit Office (NAO) by former director of government estate management Charles Camilleri, who stated that Scerri would regularly pressure him to ensure that Falzon is not implicated in the scandal.
By then, Falzon’s resignation had already been announced by disgraced former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, after the publication of the NAO’s report on the deal. The report concluded that collusion had occurred when the deal was put together. After he resigned, Falzon was eventually reinstated in Cabinet by Joseph Muscat himself in 2017. He now occupies the role of minister for family and social justice.