Updated to include Karol Aquilina’s statement
During a stormy plenary session in Parliament on Wednesday, Opposition MP Karol Aquilina published a copy of what he claims is a secret agreement between Joseph Muscat’s disgraced former chief of staff Keith Schembri and Sadeen Education Investment Ltd that promised free parcels of land in Żonqor to the Jordanian developers behind the American University of Malta (AUM).
Despite the shocking allegations, the government passed two motions returning land given to AUM in Bormla to the public and providing the group with a campus at Smart City in Kalkara — a land-swap that granted AUM the right to buy some 31,500 square metres of public land at Smart City for the ridiculous price of €0.47c per square metre, despite being in breach of its original five-year licence to operate the university.
The part of the plenary session debating the land swap motions saw heated speeches from both sides of the House, with both government and Opposition MPs repeatedly breaching parliamentary rules of conduct, shouting across the room and talking over one another.
In spite of the Opposition’s efforts to stop it, the motions were approved by the House of Representatives.
Referring to multiple secret agreements, Aquilina published one of the documents on Facebook, accusing the government of orchestrating “a major scandal” that was planned entirely “behind Parliament’s back”.
According to Aquilina, the agreements between Schembri and Sadeen Education Investment Ltd were signed in secret in between 23 – 25 October, 2015, with Schembri acting as an unauthorized representative of the Maltese government.
The document states that Schembri guarantees the company a 3,000 square metre plot of land over and above the 90,000 square metres that were originally promised in Żonqor, as well as another parcel of land that would be large enough to accommodate a 1,000 bed dormitory that the company hoped to build.
“This agreement states that these parcels of land would not cost them absolutely anything, it was given to them for free,” Aquilina said.
“You should be ashamed, treating public land in this manner,” he said, “throwing it away for free, negotiating it secretly and behind this Parliament’s back, and then showing up here today pretending you’re doing something spectacular by giving back the land in Żonqor.”
Aquilina also claimed that conceding a total of almost 100,000 square metres land in Żonqor wasn’t even the company’s idea, but was originally the brainchild of Schembri and disgraced former prime minister Joseph Muscat.
The MP further outlined how the published agreement was considered “top secret”, with Clause Five of the agreement stating:
“This Document shall remain strictly and absolutely private and confidential between the Parties. The publication or otherwise disclosure of in any manner by Sadeen of this Document, including the confirmation of its existence, even inadvertently or in good faith, shall bring about the immediate ipso jure full, absolute and irrevocable rescission of the commitments herein outlined”.
Aquilina asked Prime Minister Robert Abela if he planned to shoulder responsibility, and if he would call on Joseph Muscat to do the same.
“Change your route and cancel the entire agreement,” the MP said, “and if you do so, the result will be that this public land, which was not used for education at all but was only used for speculation will be returned to the public.”
Aquilina later issued another statement on Facebook adding a document signed by former Economy Minister Chris Cardona. “With this letter the Maltese government gave Sadeen a gift of between €2.5 million and €3 million,” he wrote. “This is in addition to the contract I unveiled in parliament last Wednesday” which was first published “without the floor plan” by Lizzie Eldridge in November 2021 in an article on Manuel Delia’s blog.
“It is incredible how after all this time the government is still hiding all these documents from the Maltese and Gozitan people,” Aquilina wrote, “and Robert Abela is continuing with this work.”