Prime Minister Robert Abela and his wife Lydia acquired a centrally located flat in Valletta to use as their law firm’s office for €3,000, just four years before the premises were to be returned to the Lands Authority.
The 150-year lease has now expired, but Abela is still using the property on Strait Street despite not having a legal title.
After years of refusing The Shift’s requests for a copy of the contract and other documents signed in 2013, just a few weeks after Labour was returned to power, they were finally published following a parliamentary question by Nationalist Party (PN) MP Rebekah Borg.
They show that in May 2013, two months after Labour won the election, Abela and his wife acquired half the ownership of the remaining emphyteutic concession of the apartment, making them full owners of the concession as they already owned the other half.
The transfer was made from lawyer Ian Stafrace, former CEO of the Planning Authority and now the main lawyer of Gozitan construction magnate Joseph Portelli, and his wife Claire Zammit Stafrace, who was appointed as a magistrate by the previous PN administration.
The original concession was due to end in 2017, just four years after the Abela’s signed. At this point, it should have been returned to the government and vacated, or a new agreement signed. The law states a new valuation must be carried out and the property put up for allocation through competitive tender.
Industry sources told The Shift that the current market price of such a flat in central Valletta is estimated to be in the region of €200,000.
Last year, the government launched a new scheme to ‘regularise’ the situation of squatters, allowing them to extend their leases by another 50 years and bypassing laws on the administration of public property.
Through the new scheme, the government allows tenants to remain in possession of the government property for another 50 years while paying just 2% of the property’s market value as ground rent.
It is not yet known whether the prime minister applied for this scheme and what decision has been taken by the Lands Authority. If no new agreement was made, the Abelas could be considered as squatters.
Apart from owning a penthouse in Marsascala, Abela also bought a massive ODZ villa on the outskirts of Zejtun just a few days after the Planning Authority sanctioned all its illegalities.
The Abelas also possess a farmhouse in Xewkija, bought at a low price, which they are now turning into a boutique hotel.
For many years, Abela has worked as the legal counsel for the Planning Authority on a retainer of up to €17,000 a month.