One of the two men accused of causing the death of Jean-Paul Sofia owns an agricultural store and goat farm, closely resembling a residence, built on rural land in Naxxar following five different Planning Authority approvals.
Research by The Shift shows that a once large, rural, and untouched parcel of agricultural land in Naxxar was transformed into an ‘agricultural store’ and a fully-fledged ‘goat farm’, although the buildings look suspiciously like a residence, without a single goat to be seen.
The owner of this piecemeal development, mostly built illegally and sanctioned later, is Kurt Buhagiar – one of two accused of causing the death of Jean-Paul Sofia following the collapse of an illegal factory in Kordin.
The 38-year-old from Naxxar, already having a criminal record, served as the personal driver of Robert Vella, the CEO of the Lands Authority. Vella previously worked at the Planning Authority for several years until he was handpicked for the CEO role.
The investment in the sprawling development, considering Buhagiar worked as a driver, has resulted in several questions about how he amassed his wealth.
It was independent MEP candidate Arnold Cassola who first pointed out the farm development.
Buhagiar’s goat farm
In 2015, through an application fronted by Architect Sandro Cini from Paola, Buhagiar applied to build a 40 square metre agriculture store and underlying basement on virgin land in an area called Ta’ Habel Gendus il-Kbir, off Għajn Riħana, in Naxxar.
Granted the permit by the Planning Authority, despite objections by the Environment and Resources Authority, Buhagiar built much more than permitted. Later, through a number of different applications, he got the illegalities sanctioned while continuing to extend it.
Then, in 2019, he filed a new application. This time, Buhagiar asked the Planning Authority to extend the agricultural store to 175 square meters and turn it into a farmer’s residence.
He attempted to justify it as a farmer’s residence by arguing that he wanted to build a goat farm at the back of the large field for some 40 animals. The extension was built before even applying for the permit.
The Planning Authority denied his permit to reside in the place, saying he was not a farmer. Yet, the Authority still permitted him to build the goat farm behind the store.
Buhagiar accepted the compromise, sanctioning his illegally extended residence as a store and promising not to use it as a residence. The construction of the goat farm went ahead.
So far, no goats have appeared on the farm, while the ‘agriculture store’ looks like a well-kept residence.
Buhagiar’s colourful past
Better known as the right-hand man of Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella, Buhagiar has a colourful past.
Caught red-handed by Italian police trafficking people between Libya, Malta, and Sicily in 2011, he spent time behind bars in a Sicilian prison in Ragusa with two other Maltese accomplices.
On his return to Malta, he was given a government job at the Water Services Corporation, employed just before the 2017 general elections by disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi.
Later, he became Robert Vella’s ‘shadow’, working as his driver.
Just a few months before the tragic Kordin collapse that claimed Sofia’s life, The Shift had reported how Buhagiar was also pegged for a new promotion as an administrative assistant at the Lands Authority on the recommendation of Vella.
With Matthew Schembri, the other individual involved in the illegal Kordin factory development, Buhagiar holds a 50% equity in Allplus Ltd – the company behind the Kordin building.
He is also a shareholder in two other companies – SC Real Estate Ltd and 5B Limited and a director of the recently registered Koperattiva Produtturi tal-Bhejjem Limitata.