Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, through a company owned by his wife, has acquired approximately €270,000 in EU funds to turn a large Outside Development Zone property into a three-star boutique hotel specialising in “yoga meditation and culinary services”.
Research shows that the allocation of EU funds for the minister’s Qala development, a residence built mostly illegally over two decades, in an idyllic natural landscape with views of Dahlet Qorrot Bay was awarded in 2020 through an application filed by his wife, Michelina Refalo.
Using the name of L-Eremita Company Ltd, of which Mrs Refalo is the sole director, a total of €270,000 in EU funds was allocated under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) for Qala’s newest “distinct boutique accommodation”.
ERDF funds and their allocation are administered by the Maltese government.
Documents seen by The Shift show EU funding was to cover 80% of the Refalos’ costs for the eight-bedroom, 16-bed hotel, which is meant to open its doors this year.
While Minister Refalo does not feature in the application for EU funds and is not listed as a shareholder of the company that received the funds, the property in question is listed in his declaration of assets.
Refalo, the longest-serving current Labour MP, ironically formed part of the parliamentary group that voted against Malta’s EU membership in the early 2000s.
Anton Refalo and his wife acquired the 2,000 square metres sprawling property in the early 1990s when it was a small building set on agricultural land on the outskirts of Qala.
It has been turned over the years in piecemeal fashion into a large rural residence with lush outdoor spaces and a large pool.
Even though the development was mostly illegal and subject to Planning Authority the minister always managed to have appeals go his way and sanction the various illegalities
The massive chunk of EU funds the Minister and his wife secured was only possible after the Planning Authority gave the residence, which, the Refalos never lived in, into a hotel.
This, even though the Environment and Resources Authority has vehemently opposed the development, stating “The approval of this proposal would further consolidate uses which are not characteristic of rural areas”.