Court sentence shows Fredrick Azzopardi ordered contractor to continue Wied Qirda works

The contractor has been fined €36,000 for ignoring the stop order issued on the road works, having been told to ignore the orders by the top echelons of Infrastructure Malta

Fredrick Azzopardi, pictured left, told the contractor tasked with works at Wied Qirda (pictured right) to continue with the works despite a stop order from ERA
Fredrick Azzopardi, pictured left, told the contractor tasked with works at Wied Qirda (pictured right) to continue with the works despite a stop order from ERA

A court has fined a contractor carrying out roadworks at Wied Qirda for ignoring a stop order issued by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) over a breach of environmental regulations.

In a sentence issued last April, but which was not published on the online court portal, Magistrate Elaine Mercieca took Infrastructure Malta to task for the way it ordered contractor Anthony Camilleri of AC Group to continue with works at Wied Qirda despite being told to stop by Malta’s environment watchdog.

The court declared that Infrastructure Malta had disregarded the stop-and-comply order issued by ERA by ordering its contractor to continue with the road works.

The tit-for-tat began in November 2019, after ERA officials inspected the site and found that road works were being carried out in the area.

A first inspection by ERA officials was carried out on 14 November that year. A written stop order was issued the following day.

However, when ERA officials carried out another inspection on 16 November, they noticed that the contractor carried on with the works in spite of the stop order.

Several other inspections were carried out, and almost every time the contractor had continued with its workers.

According to one ERA official who testified, the contractor said that he was receiving orders from Infrastructure Malta, specifically from its former CEO Fredrick Azzopardi and perit David Vassallo.

Azzopardi insisted in court that the works were needed to ensure the safety of the public road. He also admitted to having been the one who gave the contractor instructions to continue with the works.

He even said that he thought the stop order meant that no work can be done apart from that related to the strengthening of the road, in effect assuming that the works were not subject to the stop order.

In its judgement, the court acknowledged that the contractor was receiving conflicting orders from two public authorities. However, it remarked that any contestation of ERA’s orders should have been done through legal means, and not by “flagrantly ignoring” the stop order.

The court also questioned a joint statement issued by ERA and Infrastructure Malta, which said that the stop and comply order issued in November was not issued with the intention of stopping the works.

Indeed, the court said it was perplexed that ERA did not revoke or amend the stop order in light of this statement. Instead, ERA officials continued with their on-site inspections.

In light of all this, the court found the contractor guilty of breaching environmental regulations and imposed a €36,000 fine.

Steve Zammit Lupi, a local councillor who was among the first to raise alarm bells over Wied Qirda, revealed on Thursday that the contractor was fined €36,000 for the damage caused.

But above this, Zammit Lupi said that Infrastructure Malta was also fined €50,000 for the works.

Moviment Graffitti, the NGO that also brought attention to the environmental damage at Wied Qirda, celebrated the judgement and insisted that Fredrick Azzopardi should be similarly brought to court to be held accountable for his actions in the case.

The NGO also criticised the decision to fine Infrastructure Malta, as the agency is funded by taxpayer money.

Back in 2020, independent candidate Arnold Cassola filed a criminal complaint with the police over the illegal works in Wied Qirda. The complaint had referred to unauthorised works carried out by the roads agency where the country path was widened and tarmacked over, and the topography of the valley was changed. 

The complaint said all works in the sensitive valley were done without a permit. The agency had also ignored a stop order issued by the Environment and Resources Authority.