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Bank to seize Bahrija farmland from controversial landowners

Norman Zammit, alongside other shareholders, were involved in a legal tussle over land in the Qortin area of Bahrija

matthew_agius
Matthew Agius
14 November 2017, 7:41am
A judge has approved a request that paves the way for a bank to seize millions of euros worth of farmland in Bahrija from the land’s defaulting owners.

Norman Zammit, along with shareholders Emanuel Baldacchino, Joseph Baldacchino, Carmel Baldacchino, Ninu Cuschieri, George Cuschieri, Anthony Galea, and Generoso Sammut, had been involved in a legal tussle over land in the Qortin area of Bahrija after local farmers reported that the men, directors of Eliza Properties – now Touchstone Properties – had tried to evict them so as to sell the land at over ten times the amount it was bought for.

The land was previously owned by the Barony of Bahria, Salvatore Consoli-Palermo-Navarra, whose heirs had sold the land to Eliza for €2.5 million.

In 2005, Eliza started marketing the sale of 1.5 million square metres of Bahrija land.

Eliza Properties had also asked the courts to evict the farmers from the 1,500-tumolo area, known as il-Qortin and overlooking the bay at Fomm ir-Rih, a green area where development was prohibited.

In March 2016, BOV filed a sworn application, claiming that in a contract of loan and sale dating back to 1997, Eliza Properties had declared itself a debtor of the bank for the sum of €1,630,561, together with additional interest until the date of final payment.

The agreement had been entered into after former METCO chairman Norman Zammit lost an appeal against a previous court decision, leaving him liable to the payment of over €1.9 million (Lm828,000) in unpaid debts to Bank of Valletta.

Already in 2008, Zammit and his wife Marie Therese had been ordered to pay the amount after the bank petitioned the court to enforce an earlier decision, declaring Zammit to be a debtor.

A subsequent appeal filed by Zammit was thrown out, with the court also ordering him to pay double the legal expenses as punishment for the “vexatious and frivolous” lawsuit.

Zammit had challenged the bank’s request on the grounds that it was Eliza Company, the company he is a shareholder in, which had been the debtor.

Eliza Properties was also co-owned by Generoso (aka Jimmy) Sammut – who had once been accused, together with Zammit, of stealing 15 paintings from Villa Fiorentina in Attard in 1999.

Fast-forward to the present day, where BOV requested the court authorise it to use the contract as an executive title, on the grounds that contracts made before a notary public can form the basis of a successful money claim if dealing with a debt that is certain, liquid and due. Eliza properties had initially replied, claiming that the contract was not a constitution of debt, but a property loan for €700,000 by the bank to the defendant company.

The company said it had paid BOV, which was “expecting to be paid interest that exceeds the capital sum borrowed, thereby breaching the rule of ultra duplum.”

It had been paying off the debt by selling immovable properties and passing on the takings to the bank, but said that BOV was not consenting to reducing the hypothecs on the properties, and proving to be an immovable obstacle to their sale.

But then in May 2017, for reasons unclear, Eliza Properties made an about-turn and admitted the claim.

Seeing this, Judge Silvio Meli noted that the five-year period from the date of signing the contract had elapsed and that the plaintiff had used a legal faculty of reviving the executive title. 

The court thus authorised the bank to use the 1997 contract as an executive title, which could now be used as a basis for legal action to recover the debt.

matthew_agius
Court reporter Matthew Agius is a Legal Procurator and Commissioner for Oaths. Prior to re...