The Planning Authority has refused to release any details about the €45,000 sanctioning fine which the original owners of a sprawling ODZ house in Zejtun, sold to Prime Minister Robert Abela for the ‘bargain’ price of €600,000, were supposed to pay.
Ignoring several requests by The Shift to provide proof that the sanctioning fine was paid on time, and to give the date that the payment reached the authority, the PA has now turned down a Freedom of Information request to publish a copy of the related payment receipts and any other correspondence on the fine, including emails.
Citing the Development Planning Act, the PA said that “the documents requested are not listed” among the documents accessible to the public under the Development Planning Act.
The Shift’s request was made according to the Freedom of Information Act, and therefore it has now asked the Data Protection Commissioner for an investigation into the PA’s illegal interpretation of the law in order to withhold information that involves the prime minister.
So far, all public entities controlled by the government have refused to provide information about the controversial acquisition of the two-tumuli property in a rural area outside Zejtun, involving possible tax evasion by the prime minister and his wife and bending of the rules by the PA to sanction the villa, half of which was built illegally.
While the PA has refused to publish any proof of the payment of the fine, ostensibly made by the original owners, Joseph and Alfrida Camilleri from Marsacala, the Commissioner for Inland Revenue, Joseph Caruana, has also refused to explain why no valuation has been made by government architects on the declared value of the villa – a procedure that’s followed in all similar cases of high-end property purchases,.
The Shift revealed that in 2017, when the prime minister and his wife were still acting as legal advisors to the PA, a permit was issued to sanction a large ODZ house in Zejtun, even though half of the villa had been built illegally. Instead of ordering the owners to demolish the illegal parts before the property was regularised, the PA imposed a €45,000 fine and the villa was sanctioned.
It later transpired that the villa owners were already committed via a promise of sale to see the property to the prime minister. Just five days after the permit was issued, the final deed was signed – passing ownership of the property to the prime minister and his wife for the bargain price of just €600,000.
Estate agents put the villa’s true value at over €2 million, however Abela has insisted that he did not under-declare the price to avoid tax.
The Shift has also reported that the Inland Revenue Commissioner did not ask his architects, as usually happens, to inspect the newly acquired property and make a valuation in order to establish whether both the original owners and the acquirers – the prime minister in this case – had under-declared the value to avoid tax.
Asked to explain why a valuation was not made, the Commissioner of Inland Revenue has failed to reply.
While this was all happening, it emerged that the prime minister had used the villa, which he never lived in, to lease out to two Russians who applied to buy a Maltese passport through his private legal firm.
Proceeds from this ‘phantom lease’, in which the Russians only used the Abelas’ villa as an address and never really lived in the property, were not listed in the prime minister’s annual declaration to Parliament.