Vijay Kumar Berlia, an Indian business tycoon who had bought up 30,000sqm of land on Dwejra’s coastline, is among the government’s list of new Maltese citizens for 2020.
This confirms long-held suspicions already exposed in an in-depth investigation carried out by The Shift that Berlia, who was revealed to be a close associate of disgraced former finance minister John Dalli, was intent on acquiring Maltese citizenship.
Given that the government publishes the names of passport buyers with a year-long delay and that it mixes the names of naturalised citizens along with the names of those who have purchased passports, it is not yet known whether Berlia bought his passport using the government’s much criticised Individual Investor Programme (IIP).
The Shift’s investigation revealed that Berlia, a millionaire based in Dubai with multiple interests in real estate and chemicals, filed a PA application (PA/3961/20) in February which sought to expand and develop an abandoned quarry known as Tal-Qattara in San Lawrenz.
The abandoned quarry would be extended by an additional 12,000sqm should the application be approved. 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. Part of the envisaged development falls on a protected Natura 2000 site. The local council of San Lawrenz, bar Labour council member George Camilleri, had also objected to the development.
The application had raised two particular red flags – the fact that the architect representing Berlia’s interests is Alex Bigeni, better known as one of Gozitan tycoon Joseph Portelli’s go-to architects, and the fact that John Dalli’s email address was listed as a reference point. Bigeni is also known to be associated with Gozo minister Clint Camilleri, both professionally and personally. He was employed as Camilleri’s consultant and is related to Camilleri through marriage.
Dalli himself had denied professional association with Berlia, passing himself off as an acquaintance of the Indian businessman while stating that Berlia had independently chosen to assess Malta as a potential location for investment of his own accord.
Dalli had failed to answer The Shift’s questions when the article linking him with the development via his email address was published. One of The Shift’s articles, which included photo evidence, showed that Dalli had visited Apeejay Stya University in New Delhi, where Berlia’s business group is based, in 2018. The university forms part of Berlia’s business group and is controlled by his wife, Sushma.
The following year, Berlia registered a company in Malta known as BV Enterprises Limited. In February of this year, at least five members of Berlia’s family had also bought Maltese passports, leading to The Shift’s correct conclusion that Berlia was setting up to eventually purchase Maltese passports.
The Berlia-Bigeni link
Berlia is the owner of The Svrán Group, “an international conglomerate of businesses” headquartered in New Delhi, which describes itself as “a leading industrial and investment house with interests in automotives, chemicals and plastics, distribution, logistics and retail, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, real estate, international trading and has a nascent presence in information technology, merchant banking and financial services and publishing”.
It is not yet known how Bigeni came to form his business relationship with Berlia on the project, nor whether there are any direct links between Berlia and Joseph Portelli or any of his business interests beyond the mutual relations with Bigeni.
In July of last year, The Shift revealed that Bigeni was paid €99,000 to act as project manager on behalf of the government for the construction of the Gozo Sports Complex, a tender which was awarded to Poliexcel Construction Consortium. One of Poliexcel’s shareholding companies, Excel Investments, includes Joseph Portelli and his business associates, meaning that Bigeni was in a position to supervise his biggest client on a massive project. The other half of the consortium is Charles Polidano, known as ‘ic-Caqnu’.
The costs on that project had mushroomed from €9 million to €16 million – the revised costs for the project were announced in a statement through the office of the prime minister last May. Chief spokesperson for the prime minister Matthew Carbone had ignored questions sent by The Shift in which this portal sought to understand how the costs for the project had spiralled.