Gozitan architect Angelo Portelli, currently in the eye of a brewing storm following a request for an investigation about his professional conduct by Din l-Art Helwa, was suspended from his government job in 2017 following corruption claims.
On Wednesday, the NGO called for a thorough investigation by the Environment Ombudsman and the Chamber of Architects over how Portelli conducted himself in the demolition of a historic farmhouse in Xewkija.
According to Din l-Art Helwa, although the demolition was part of a development permit issued by the Planning Authority, this was based on incorrect information supplied by the architect on behalf of his clients.
The NGO also accused Portelli of overseeing the demolition of this farmhouse which went much further than permitted.
The 2017 suspension
Angelo Portelli, still employed at the Gozo Ministry as an architect, was suspended from his job in July 2017, shortly after Justyne Caruana had taken over the reins of the ministry from her predecessor Anton Refalo.
The ministry had said in a statement at the time that three senior employees, including Portelli, were suspended following fresh information received regarding allegations of irregularities in road construction tenders given between 2004 and 2017.
The ministry had announced the launch of a magisterial inquiry and the police was given full access to the computers and documents of the three suspended employees.
While Portelli and his colleagues remained suspended from their work, the government and the police refused to give any information on the nature of the allegations.
In February 2018, it was reported that while the magisterial inquiry was still ongoing, the three employees, including Portelli, were told that they could report back to work. Yet the minister at the time (Caruana) had transferred them to the Foundation for Tomorrow Schools.
The three employees were never arraigned in court and no information has been given about their case.
In a recent parliamentary question, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri refused to give additional information about this case, stating that the magisterial inquiry was still ongoing.
When Angelo Portelli was suspended, it was reported that the architect was considered to be very close to former Gozo Minister Anton Refalo and that the suspension of the three employees was somehow related to the political feud between Caruana and her predecessor.
While suspended from his workplace, and even following his reinstatement, Portelli continued to conduct his private practice as an architect presenting more than 80 planning applications on behalf of his private clients, mainly Gozitans.
The Xewkija issue
The recent issue on which Din l-Art Helwa wants Portelli to be investigated concerns a historic farmhouse in Xewkija that was almost totally demolished within a few days from the issue of a development permit so the area could be turned into a block of some 38 flats.
The application is being fronted by Mark Falzon, which the NGO suspects is a cover for controversial developer Joseph Portelli.
Highlighting concerns about the way in which the destruction of the farmhouse occurred, Din l-Art Helwa zoomed into the responsibilities of Angelo Portelli, claiming that through his application he had “obscured or totally excluded” some of the most important elements of the building.
The NGO also claimed that the Planning Authority approved the permit without ever visiting the site and only decided based on the ‘incomplete’ information submitted by the architect.
Din l-Art Helwa said this happened while the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage had already flagged the building as necessary to retain in its entirety due to its historical value.