In his continued refusal in the face of massive public outcry to order a public inquiry into the circumstances leading to the Kordin construction site death of Jean Paul Sofia, Prime Minister Robert Abela has said the concession of the public land in question by INDIS Malta to shady developers should be investigated by INDIS Malta itself, or other government entities, rather than by a public inquiry.
Abela has insisted that if the ongoing magisterial inquiry does not delve into the allocation of public land and whether the Kordin plot was given under dubious circumstances, it should be investigated – not by a public inquiry but, rather by INDIS Malta itself or another government entity.
The Prime Minister made the statement in an interview with MaltaToday in the wake of widespread public condemnation of Abela and his MPs’ unanimous vote in Parliament against the institution of the public inquiry being demanded by Sofia’s family, the vast majority of civil society, the Opposition and the public at large.
The contractors and developers behind the 3 December 2022 tragedy that claimed the life of 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia, and exactly how and under what circumstances the land was allocated to them by INDIS Malta, would presumably be a central aspect of any potential public inquiry that the government is pulling out all the stops to resist, perhaps for fear of the inquiry uncovering deeper rot.
There had been an initial wall of silence from the authorities about who was behind the tragedy when it happened last December. The Shift had revealed the individuals behind the development were Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar, who is also Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella’s driver.
Buhagiar and Schembri are shareholders in Allplus Ltd, which was set up in 2019 as a furniture manufacturing and construction company. The collapsed building was on public property allocated by INDIS Malta to Allplus Ltd for use as a timber factory.
Schembri and Buhagiar both have colourful pasts linked to human trafficking and the hiring of hitmen.
Recruited as the personal driver of the Lands Authority’s CEO in February 2021, 38-year-old Buhagiar had spent over a year in a Ragusa prison in 2011 after being apprehended, along with two other Maltese accomplices, by the Italian police for human trafficking between Libya, Malta and Sicily.
Buhagiar was recruited as a fitter by the Water Services Corporation before the 2017 elections and was later moved to the Lands Authority as Robert Vella’s personal driver.
According to The Times of Malta, Buhagiar had also worked as the driver of Malta Enterprise chairman William Wait when the industrial plot in Kordin was allocated to him and his business partner.
With Schembri, Buhagiar is a 50% shareholder in Allplus Ltd, which was developing the fated timber factory. He is also a shareholder in two other companies – SC Real Estate Ltd and 5B Limited – and is a director of Koperattiva Produtturi tal-Bhejjem Limitata.
Schembri, whose name was on the site’s development application – issued through a simple Development Notification Order by the Planning Authority in June 2022 – is meanwhile facing charges related to the alleged hiring of foreign hitmen to carry out an attack on his former wife’s father on the Sliema seafront.
The two alleged Albanian hitmen lived together in a Sliema apartment owned by Schembri and claimed they worked for him illegally and without payment.
In addition to his shareholding in Allplus Ltd, Schembri also owns Green Technologies Ltd and Whitefrost Company Ltd.
The doomed project’s architect, Adriana Zammit, is a former Planning Authority official and a full-time employee at Infrastructure Malta.
The contractor is known to have been Serbian national Miromir Milosovic, who had been working in Malta for a number of years before the tragedy. It is also still unclear whether the workers engaged on the site, including a Bosnian and three Albanians, had valid work permits.