The land grab in Gozo that has caused agony and fury to hundreds of residents and farmers, and led to a sprawling block of flats – probably Gozo’s largest-ever – that has marred Qala’s character has been thirty years in the making.
The illustrated timeline below lays out in clinical detail the events of these thirty years that have led to this point.
Click on any of the illustrations below to enlarge, starting from the infographic below about who is benefitting from this land and now making millions.
25 August 1675: Noblewoman Cosmana Navarra created benefice or foundation called Beneficcju Ta Sant Antonio Delli Navarra whose point was to administer vast lands in Gozo and raise funds for pious deeds. In the rules of foundation, created for all time, her descendants would be patrons of the foundation that would be administered by a rector. The rector, nominated by the patrons and appointed (or rejected) by the archbishop, had to be a male descendant of Cosmana’s nephew Federico Falson Navarra, a descendent of Cosmana or her elder sister Faustina in absence of male descendant of Federico, or a priest if no such descendant was found (until a descendant appears). The rector could grant land via emphyteusis – or lease – after getting the consent of the archbishop.
3 November 1989: The priest Francesco Saverio Bianco who was rector of the foundation died. The foundation had been administered by priests for decades, but no new rector was appointed after death of Bianco.
3 August 1991: Richard Dei Conti Stagno Navarra, declaring himself descendant of Cosmana and in line for rector, leased land in Qala called Ta Ghar Boffa to property entrepreneur Joseph Vella on temporary emphyteusis for 150 years.
16 August 1991: Richard Dei Conti asked the archbishop to appoint him rector.
21 February 1992: The archbishop rejected Richard’s application.
26 March 1992: Richard filed a court application requesting to be appointed foundation rector. No mention was made of the archbishop’s rejection of his request. His lawyer was Carmelo Galea.
27 March 1992: The next day magistrate Carol Peralta appointed Richard rector.
30 March 1992: Joseph Vella set up a company, Berracimp Properties Limited. It had three directors – himself, Carmelo Galea, and then-magistrate (now retired) Dennis Montebello. Richard proceeded to transfer large lands to Berracimp and Jimp Limited (also owned by Joseph Vella) in emphyteutical deeds.
31 July 1992: The archdiocese filed prohibitory injunctions and court cases against these land transfers.
22 October 1992: The archdiocese challenged Richard’s appointment to rector in lower constitutional court.
19 February 2010: The court decided against the archdiocese on the basis that the foundation is lay, not religious, and hence does not fall under Canon law. Archdiocese appealed.
29 November 2013: Three judges in the Court of Appeal overturned the lower constitutional court’s decision, and nullified Richard’s rectorship. Richard died in 2010, and the court ordered his six siblings to pay all legal expenses, including the archdiocese’s. Victory with expenses in the final court meant the archdiocese had grasped back effective control over the foundation and it would be a matter of time before all land transfers made by Richard would be nullified.
20 February 2017: In two decrees, Archbishop Charles Scicluna accepted the Stagno Navarras’ claim of descent from Cosmana or Federico without requesting to see any independently sourced or verified evidence, and then appointed their nominee Patrick Valentino as rector. Scicluna also authorized his legal representative to sign a contract in which he “renounced the right” to consent to, or veto, land transfers by the rector. The archdiocese also took over responsibility for the pious obligations, and received a sum of €200,000 so that it would fund the pious deeds from accruing yearly interest. Justification given for this contract, which changed the ruled of the foundation, was that it was in the interests of the archdiocese, the Stagno Navarras’, and the foundation.
20/27 February 2017: The copy of the contract appended to archbishop’s decree specified who contributed what to that fund of €200,000 – 60% by the Stagno Navarras’, 20% each by the lawyer Carmelo Galea and retired magistrate Dennis Montebello – but that paragraph did not appear in the version of the contract signed at the notary’s office 7 days later.
17 August 2017: Carravan Company Limited was set up with same balance of ownership: 60% owned by Dei Conti Holdings Limited (company of the Stagno Navarra siblings), 20% by Carmelo Galea, and 20% by Carrac Limited (owned by Dennis Montebello and his two daughters, including serving magistrate Rachel). Valentino is partner of Rachel, with whom he lived/lives. According to one interpretation, Carravan in reverse reads as Navarra C – the C could stand for (C)armelo and/or (C)arrac.
25 July 2017: Foundation applied to the Land Registry to register ownership of a tract of land at Tal-Vardati almost as big as the footprint of Mater Dei hospital. The registration was approved nine days later even though the translation of the contract of foundation appended with the application did not mention the land in question, or any other land.
14 February 2018: Valentino signed a preliminary agreement with Carravan for perpetual emphyteusis (lease) of Ta Ghar Boffa, which amounts to more than three football pitches in size, for a ground-rent of €43,000 annually, redeemable (into ownership) after 20 years. On the same day Carravan signed a preliminary agreement that assigned the perpetual emphyteusis on the same land to Excel Investments Limited, owned by Joseph Portelli (majority shareholder), the Agius brothers (Ta Dirjanu), and Daniel Refalo.
26 March 2018: In a contract that “corrected” the contract of 27 February 2017, the archbishop “renounced the right” to assent to all land transfers via emphyteusis, including perpetual. Around 2 months later, on 31 May 2018, one of the directors of Excel, Mark Agius, applied to build 53 flats at Ta Ghar Boffa. Over the next two years, more development applications were put in and approved: the blocks of flats, which is still under construction, is probably Gozo’s largest-ever.
19 May 2018: In a perpetual emphyteusis deed, Valentino transferred the football-pitched-size area called Ta Marga to Dei Conti Holdings for €42,600, redeemable into ownership after 30 years. Dei Conti belongs to the Stagno Navarras.
3 August 2018: Valentino transferred Tas-Sajtun, an area amounting to almost four football pitches, to Carravan via perpetual emphyteusis for €35,500 annually, redeemable (into ownership) after 20 years.
17 September 2018: Land amounting to 5,624 square metres on Qala’s coast granted to Road Construction Company Limited for quarrying against payment of €3,888 annually as well as additional payment for every cubic metre of mined stone, against an advance of €330,500 on signing of the contract.
28 January and 17 February 2020: The Land Registry approved the ownership registration made by the foundation on two large plots of lands in Nadur, on which dozens of houses sit, even though the deed submitted did not mention the land applied for. By the end of the year, the foundation started contacting homeowners and offering to grant them title on the land their houses sit on if they paid between €10,000 and €70,000 each.
10 November 2020: Daughter of Carmelo Galea got planning permission to build a house at Ta Marga in Qala on land gotten from Stagno Navarra’s company.
18 November 2020: Titan Developments Limited applied to build a block of 71 flats at Tas-Sajtun on land that had been granted to Carravan by the foundation. After an outcry, number of flats was reduced to 51 while largely retaining same footprint.
21 December 2020: In Nadur, three individuals connected to property developer Joseph Portelli, including his sister and cousin, signed contracts with the foundation in which the latter accepted their title, gained through acquisitive prescription, in return for payments of €10,000 and €70,000. Yet the land Registry rejected the foundation’s attempts to deregister these portions of land.
11 August 2020: Remember Joseph Vella, the property developer who was originally involved thirty years ago? Carravan gifted a flat to each of his three children and widow at Ta Ghar Boffa. This is because, judging from the wording of the contract, the foundation neglected to file a court judgement that had nullified the emphyteutic lease given to Vella way back on 1991.
1 May 2021: Preliminary agreement made on 14 February 2018 was made good when Excel paid around €1.5 million to Carravan to buy various garages and flats in its own development at Ta Ghar Boffa. The transactions were made in a series of 10 contracts.
30 November 2021: Planning Authority granted developer Ta Karkanja permit for a block of 8 flats at Ta Marga on land granted to the Stagno Navarras.