Lands Authority tender to legalise public land takeover after false declarations

The Lands Authority allowed a block of flats to be built on public land, ignoring the false declaration of ownership by the developers and then issued a tender for its sale to the same developers in a bid to cover up the irregularities.

An investigation by The Shift shows how the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority failed to address two illegal declarations of ownership from the Gozitan developers and instead gave the green light to a series of procedural manoeuvres to regularise the development.

The scandal concerns a new block of garages, flats, and penthouses named ‘By the Bastion Court’ in Victoria, Gozo.

How did the land grab happen?

In 2010, Gozitan brothers Ronnie and William Gatt – better known as ‘Ta’ Gianmaria’ who own various construction businesses in Gozo, including Gatt Tarmac Ltd, applied to build a block of apartments on a disused plot in Triq ta Wara s-Sur, in Gozo’s capital, Rabat.

In their official declaration filed to the Planning Authority filed through their architect Saviour Micallef, the two brothers declared that they were the sole owners of the 500 square metre plot. They also declared the government did not own any part of the area.

The developers made two false declarations in their development application.

In fact, half of the plot, some 250 square metres, is public land. The Lands Authority, currently under the responsibility of Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi and CEO Robert Vella, failed to highlight this fact or object to the application.

In 2012, the Planning Authority approved the development of a block of apartments consisting of 23 underground car parking spaces, six large flats and two penthouses spread over seven storeys, three of which are underground.

The construction was delayed, and in 2017 the Planning Authority renewed the permit, with the Gatts again falsely declaring they owned the entire plot.

Internal Lands Authority documents, seen by The Shift, show that at least since 2022, when the development was completed and most of the flats sold by the Gatt brothers, the Lands Authority was fully aware that most of the flats had been built illegally on public land.

Despite this, in November 2022, CEO Robert Vella presented a proposal to the Lands Authority board to sell the land without informing board members that the plot had already been turned into flats by a private developer.

Also, instead of selling the plot at the current market rate, the 250 square metres of public land was offered via a tender filed in January 2024 based “on a perpetual revisable emphyteusis”, redeemable within the first 15 years.

Ronnie Gatt and his wife were the only bidders on the illegally built land

This served to lower the price at which the land was to be purchased – the developers would have to pay a lesser amount to take ownership of the parcel of public property. It also gave them time to sell the flats and make a profit on the plot, built illegally.

Since they owned the land adjacent to the plot they built illegally, they were given the right of first refusal on the tender.

As expected, the only bidders for this ‘tender’ were Ronnie and his wife, Peggy Ann Gatt, one-half of the duo who built the flats illegally.

Ronnie and Peggy Gatt

No explanation from Lands Authority

The Shift contacted Lands Authority Chairman John Vassallo and its CEO Robert Vella to ask for their comments, specifically why no legal action was taken against the Gatt brothers for squatting on public land. Instead, the Lands Authority fixed the problem by giving them the land.

The Shift also asked CEO Robert Vella whether he personally knows the Gatt brothers. He did not answer.

It is as yet unclear whether the Lands Authority auditor, Charmaine Muscat, who is obliged to scrutinise tenders before they are issued, had cleared the deal.

                           

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17 Comments
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simon oosterman
simon oosterman
1 month ago

Do we live in a great country or what?

Last edited 1 month ago by simon oosterman
Mark
Mark
1 month ago

Il-qarrieqa jistagħnew minn fuq dahar il-poplu. GĦAR TAL-ĦALLENIN.

Toni Borg
Toni Borg
1 month ago

How can Robert Abela, or anyone else for that matter, continue to allow this filth???

Is he part of it or just happy for it to happen??
He can’t say he’s unaware now, not only of this, but of so many other corrupt processes!!!

If he’s not against it, he’s in favour and therefore as corrupt as are the developers, the PA and the Lands Authority!!!

SHAME ON YOU!!!!

M.Galea
M.Galea
1 month ago
Reply to  Toni Borg

Mark Camilkeri jghidlu kriminal u hekk hu!

Joseph
Joseph
1 month ago
Reply to  M.Galea

U gahan jghidulu il-bobby ghax ma jghidilhom xejn dawk li jitilqu mix xoghol fil hdax jew dawk li ma jmorru xejn. Viva il-bobby fil-korruzzjoni f’wicc in nies. Misthija

S. Camilleri
S. Camilleri
1 month ago

The guardians in league with the plunderers: what chance do honest people have on these islands?

Reality
Reality
1 month ago
Reply to  S. Camilleri

NONE

Joseph
Joseph
1 month ago

The general public have accepted this corruption excusing it.
The argument now that their party is doing what they condemned the PN of doing is…u ijja the others did this too.. hence corruption in condoned.
It is ok to be corrupt only stupid people are honest, is the trend

Grace
Grace
1 month ago
Reply to  Joseph

As a matter of fact the first building permit was issued in 2012 and renewed in 2017. So this happened under both PN and PL administrations. The sharks always win.

M.Galea
M.Galea
1 month ago

Unbelievable! Tpaxxa poplu bil kruha li tiela fuq art misruqa w haddiehor jitpaxxa bl eluf fil-but li akkwista b gherq! Kompli jvota ghal dal hmieg! L aqwa li Muscat u Abela qalulek dal bini ghal ekonomija w ghalik! U l poplu jibla w jirrepeti x jisma! X hasra! B hekk rebah poplu!

Jonathan Bianco
Jonathan Bianco
1 month ago

Well I guess if the public land in Armier has been built on illegally and squatters have been there for years and even selling their illegal properties for huge sums, I guess the people just thought hey that’s normal..

makjavel
makjavel
1 month ago

Another PUBLIC Inquiry should be asked for in Parliament.
This is stealing of PUBLIC LAND. The authority has no right to legalize the equivalent of a Bank Robbery. Since when is loot legalized?
Can the Prime Minister Justify this in Parliament , why the equivalent of a Bank Robbery Loot is given legal ownership to the bank robber?

Luciano Borg
Luciano Borg
1 month ago

Robert Abela always said he wants to outshine Joseph Muscat’s legacy.
In 2019, Joseph Muscat was named Person of the Year in Organized Crime and Corruption by the OCCRP. https://www.occrp.org/en/poy/2019/
It is clear that Robert Abela wants to receive the same accolade

Chris Chegwyn
Chris Chegwyn
1 month ago

CORRUPTION RULES AND FAVOURS THE RICH

Philip Micallef
Philip Micallef
1 month ago

It is clear that before granting any permits all authorities have to check that all is in order. Planning Authority not interested if land is yours when you apply for a permit so with this logic one can apply to build a structure on top of Auberge de Castille! So many experts and professors yet missing common sense and basics.

Reality
Reality
1 month ago

Not experts but people of trust from the muvument korrott.

Winston Smith
Winston Smith
1 month ago

Gatt Development is a subsidiary of Gatt Tarmac which won the controversial tender to widen Marsalforn road and cut down 200 trees: https://offshoreleaks.icij.org/nodes/55018083

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