Commissioner for Inland Revenue Joseph Caruana has shot down a Freedom of Information request by The Shift to shed light on the valuation process supposedly made by his department on a two-tumoli ODZ property in Zejtun acquired by the prime minister in 2017 and declared, for tax purposes, at just €600,000.
Citing “secrecy rules” established in the Duty on Documents and Transfers Act, Caruana – himself embroiled in a suspected corruption scandal – said that no such information can be given as the same act binds public officials by professional secrecy.
Yet when quoting the law to justify his position, Caruana let it slip that the same law gives him the power to make exceptions. Article 6 of the law quoted by Caruana starts with: “Except as may be necessary for the purpose of this Act or where the Commissioner otherwise directs…”.
The Shift has already sent a new request for reconsideration according to the law arguing that the information requested is in the public interest as it concerns the prime minister of a democratic country and an EU Member State suspected of evading tax.
The Shift has shown that the Commissioner of Inland Revenue is duty-bound to send architects to draw up a valuation report on the property’s acquisition to determine the real value of the property. For some reason that neither the former nor the current Commissioner are prepared to explain, it was decided that this exercise would be skipped.
Instead, they accepted the prime minister’s declaration that he paid just €600,000 for the property which experienced real estate agents said was obviously way off the mark.
This happened when the Commissioner of Inland Revenue was Marvin Gaerty, who was replaced by Joseph Caruana just a few weeks before the general elections.
Real estate agents consulted by The Shift said that there was no way that the prime minister really paid just €600,000 for such a property in 2017.
The Prime Minister himself admitted that the tax department had not made any assessment of the transaction. He insisted that the price was the one declared in the contract.
Abela has never lived in the property since he acquired it and that it needed extensive refurbishment. No such works have been carried out since and the prime minister still lives in his seafront penthouse in Marsascala.
Yet Abela leased the property to two Russians seeking to buy a Maltese passport. The Russians never lived in the property but used it as an address to satisfy the 12-month residency requirement tied to the cash-for-passports scheme.
Abela said that he had paid the tax on the lease agreement in full but failed to declare its income in his parliamentary declaration of assets.