A group of mega-businessmen, mainly in the construction sector, are in advanced negotiations to take over a substantial part of Gozo’s Fort Chambray development, which has been left on the back burner for decades despite a lucrative government concession going back to the early 1990s.
The current owner of the concession, Gozitan businessman Michael Caruana, who also owns the Calypso Hotel, confirmed to The Shift that “there are ongoing negotiations on a development phase of the Fort to be passed to other shareholders.”
“I can confirm that negotiations are taking place, but no transfer contract has been signed yet,” he said.
Asked whether he would be divesting all his interest in the project, Caruana said this would not be the case as he would keep an active and hands-on interest in the development.
The original concession was given through a parliamentary resolution, and it is unknown if parts of the concession can be transferred to another party without another resolution.
However, Caruana insisted that the transfer can be approved with a simple green light from the authorities.
If the transfer goes through, this will not be the first, as the imposing fort on Mgarr’s Harbour has changed hands several times.
Sources told The Shift that a group of well-known developers are discussing how to take on parts of Caruana’s concession to build apartments and a hotel.
These developers include Ninu Fenech and his sons, who head TUM Invest; Vince Borg, known as Censu n-Nizz of V&C Group, also involved in road construction and tarmac batching plants; Mario Gauci of Burmarrad Commercials; Oliver Brownrigg of the BT Group and Francesco Grima, known as Il-Giegu and very close to Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri.
All these businessmen are close to the Labour Party and have benefitted from multi-million tenders, direct orders and other deals.
During a recent meeting of the Ghajnsielem local council, Grima was introduced as “the new owner of Fort Chambray”, something Caruana denied. Grima also explained to the Council about his plans.
While negotiations on the possible concession transfer are ongoing, the Planning Authority has approved a new development application for the “deconstruction of existing vacant and partially dilapidated residential blocks and proposed site clearance in connection with the future development phase at Fort Chambray.”
The application, filed by Caruana, was approved in August, a speedy three months after its submission, with no case officer named on the PA portal. No details have been given on this “future development phase”.
The Shift has requested copies of documentation relating to the application from the Planning Authority, but no response has been received.
The long Chambray saga
The Knights of St John built Fort Chambray in the early 1700s as a part of Gozo’s defence fortifications. It served as a mental health institution in the 1960s and 1970s before being passed to the Zammit Tabona family before the 1987 elections.
After the Nationalist Party were elected to power, the site was given by way of a 99-year concession to Fort Chambray Ltd, comprising a Monaco-registered company.
After serving as a mental health institution in the 1960s and 70s, it was passed to the Zammit Tabona family before the 1987 election but remained undeveloped.
Following the election of the PN in government, the Fort was given through a 99-year concession to Fort Chambray Ltd, at the time made up of a Monaco-registered company controlled by Italian lawyer and businessman Roberto Memmo. However, the project never got off the ground due to insufficient funds.
In 2004, the government handed the entire project to Gozitan businessman Michael Caruana and transformed parts of the site into luxury apartments. But large swathes of the site remain unfinished and far from completion.