Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Lydia signed the final deed to acquire their two tumuli ODZ mansion in a rural area of Zejtun just five days after the Planning Authority approved a decision to sanction massive illegalities on the property.
Research conducted by The Shift shows that while the PA endorsed its final decision on 5 July 2017, Prime Minister Abela and his wife signed the contract to acquire the massive property, which comes with a large pool, duck pond, sprawling gardens and stables, through a contract signed on 10 July 2017, through the services of notary Dorianne Arapa.
The PA gave the green light despite most of the property, supposedly a farmhouse, having been built illegally, so much so that the built-up area, which according to a 1985 permit had to be 190 square metres ended up with a footprint exceeding 350 square metres. Massive illegalities were also carried out in the unbuilt parts of the property.
While the process of sanctioning the prime minister’s mansion, at the time a Labour MP, was ongoing, Robert Abela and his wife were working as the PA’s legal counsel for years, raking in some €17,000 a month through direct orders.
The property was acquired from Joseph and Alfrida Camilleri, an elderly couple, now residents of Marsascala, for a declared sum of €600,000 – a massive bargain.
PA approves permit for two tumoli property peppered with illegalities
Named ‘Cinja’, the massive ODZ property is situated just across the historic chapel of San Niklaw in Triq Xrobb l-Ghagin, limits of Zejtun. The very secluded area is also one where further development is restricted, as it is adjacent to a site of archaeological importance, known as ‘Hal Ginwi’ and is characterised by agricultural land and other rural buildings.
Research shows that, originally, a permit for the two tumoli of land was given by the then Planning Area Permits Board (PAPB) in 1985 – when no planning authority and lax rules existed – so that some rooms on this farmland could be demolished and turned into a farmhouse.
According to the permit, the new building had to be a small dwelling of some 190 square metres.
Yet, as in the case of similar ODZ residential developments, the permit was ignored and the owners expanded their house, with buildings sprawling over 350 square metres, the removal of soil and the paving of vast areas.
A small dwelling turned into a massive fully detached villa complete with a large duck pool, a swimming pool, stables, gardens and areas for the rearing of animals, all built illegally.
Just a few days after the prime minister set his eyes on the property, even through the signing of a promise of sale in 2016, the Camilleris started the process to submit an application to the PA to sanction all illegalities.
Planning Authority sources told The Shift that without the sanctioning permit, the Camilleris could not sell and transfer their property to the prime minister. This was also a condition in the promise of sale agreement.
The sources also pointed out that according to policy, the sanctioning of illegalities in ODZ is not permitted if the illegal parts are not demolished.
Unsurprisingly, nothing of the sort happened.
Through the services of the owner’s architect, Chris Cachia – the same architect used by Bonnici Brothers and Simon Buhagiar – business partners of the Abelas on property development – the PA accepted all the submissions made.
While recognising the massive illegalities, the case officer, Mariella Haber, deemed almost all the illegal structures ‘acceptable’ through various policy loopholes, such as some of the illegalities having been carried out before 1994 (so valid according to policy) and other areas had already been ‘disturbed’ before.
The only structures that had to be demolished, together with a fine of €45,000 were small sheds for animal keeping.
Through its decision published on 5 July 2017, endorsed by then Planning Commission Chairperson Elizabeth Ellul, the PA determined that “the proposed sanctioning is being favourably recommended in view that although the existing residence exceeds the floor area of 200 square metres, the garage to be sanctioned is pre-1994 and the area of the store (64 sqm) is much smaller than the pre-1994 steel shed, which covered an area of over 400 square metres (also illegal). Also, the 1994 aerial photo indicates that the area occupied by the existing swimming pool and part of the decking had already been committed by development. The rest of the paving and existing animal enclosures are also visible on the 1994 aerial photo.”
Five days later, the property was suddenly in line with the law and transferred to Abela and his wife.
The property is not lived in and none of the work to demolish the small units as ordered by the PA for the permit to be granted have been carried out.
Currently, the prime minister lives in a sea-facing penthouse in Marsascala. He also owns a large farmhouse in Xewkija, Gozo.