Senior Gozitan lawyer Carmelo Galea did not answer questions on why a company he is director and shareholder of has put a low value in the preliminary agreement on a piece of land on which a developer has applied to build 47 flats and 61 parking spots.
The proposed block of flats, which is probably the largest ever in Nadur, is situated on the edge of the development zone, commanding wide views of one of Gozo’s lushest valleys and the sea beyond. The area is called Tas-Sajtun. The Planning Commission is set to decide on the application tomorrow.
The proposed development sits on a piece of land amounting to around 2,000 square metres, and architects consulted by this website estimated the market price at over €2 million.
Yet a document presented to the Planning Authority shows that the land was valued at €300,000 in a preliminary agreement (more popularly known as a promise of sale agreement) between Carravan Company Limited and Titan Developments Limited, which applied to build the block of flats.
The document presented to the Planning Authority is the Promise of Sale Notification printed by the tax office after Carravan paid the provisionary one percent tax on the value given in the preliminary agreement. The preliminary agreement itself was not presented to the Planning Authority. It is not known whether the preliminary agreement is limited to transferring perpetual emphyteusis currently held by Carravan.
The website asked Galea why such a low value was put in the preliminary agreement, and why he submitted the tax office’s receipt and not the agreement itself – and whether there is anything in the agreement he did not want the Planning Authority or the public to take cognizance of. He replied “that the matters you are ‘investigating’ are purely private matters relating to two private entities and present no element of public interest. The documents that were submitted to the Planning Authority were compliant with the relevant legislation and there was absolutely no requirement, necessity or other reason to provide a copy of the relative promise of sale, which, as you may or may not know, is a purely private writing.”
Notaries consulted by this website said that in the final contract, the market value would have to be stated and the tax paid calculated on the basis of the market value.
Asked if the reason for the low value given was due to ownership of parts of the land being contested or claimed by four individuals – one of those individuals is the mother of PN MP and Gozo spokesperson Alex Borg – Galea said: “The persons mentioned by you have absolutely no right over any part of the land forming the subject matter of the application, and their spurious claims have not affected, and will not affect, the value of that land.”
The question of ownership contestations held up the progress of the application for the block of flats for some time after four NGOs filed a judicial protest. It was also extensively debated in the last two meetings, with lawyer Mark Muscat (of MMLex Consulta) and paralegal Tony Cassar, who are representing one of the residents, bringing it up repeatedly.
Initially, the applicant, Victor Hili, declared in the application form that he was “an owner of the entire site.”
But after four individuals wrote to the Planning Authority to claim that they are owners of part of the site, six months later Hili amended the application form, stating that “I am not an owner the entire site, but I am authorized to carry out such proposed development through an agreement with the owner.”
Carmelo Galea, who is also the applicant's lawyer in this case, then submitted the tax office’s Promise of Sale Notification to show that Titan had a preliminary agreement on the land with Carravan.
Carravan in turn has the land under emphyteutic lease from the Beneficcju ta Sant Antonio delli Navarri, a foundation set up in 1675 by noblewoman Cosmana Navarra to manage land placed in the foundation and lease it to raise money for pious deeds. Land at Tas-Saitun is mentioned in the 1675 foundation deed, but no maps or site plan are attached to that deed.
Cosmana created a structure in which her descendants would be patrons of the foundation, which would be managed by a rector chosen from among her descendants – or a priest if no descendant could be found – whose appointment had to be approved by the archbishop. Then she vested the power of veto over land transfers in the archbishop of the time.
In 2017, archbishop Charles Scicluna accepted the claim by six Stagno Navarra siblings of being descendants of Cosmana without making any independent verifications. And on the same day, Scicluna approved their nominee rector, the lawyer Patrick Valentino, despite the fact that he is neither descendant nor a priest.
Scicluna also renounced his power of veto over land transfer in two eventual deeds.
Carravan Company Limited was set up around six months later. It is owned by Carmelo Galea, the six Stagno Navarra siblings, and a company called Carrac Limited, which belongs to retired magistrate Dennis Montebello and his two daughters, including serving magistrate Rachel Montebello. Valentino is Rachel's partner.
Valentino transferred the land at Tas-Sajtun to Carravan – the transferred land, amounting to 27,808 square metres, is much larger than footprint of the proposed development – in a perpetual emphyteutic lease of €35,500 annually. The perpetual emphyteusis can be redeemed into full ownership after 20 years by payment of an additional twenty-year cycle worth of groundrent, cost of living increase, and addition of 5 percent.
At another place – at Ta Ghar Boffa in Qala, where more than 150 flats are being built – Carravan similarly got land from the foundation via perpetual emphyteusis, but then it passed on the burden of the groundrent to the buyers of flats or the developer. In this way, Carravan made millions from sales at Ta Ghar Boffa.
The archbishop testified in a court case a year ago that under foundation rules, the rector is supposed to leave foundation lands “intact.”
Yet the archbishop did not respond to a call by the NGO Moviment Graffitti to dismiss the rector and start proceedings against the land transfers. The church instead published a false narrative to account for events and decisions, and its media outlet Newsbook censored its own journalists’ video coverage of a protest and video interview with Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus.
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