Controversial Naxxar stadium plan got letter of intent during election

Two letters of intent for a stadium in Gharghur were issued right in the middle of the 2017 election campaign – one by the parliamentary secretariat for sports, and one by the Lands Authority

Syrian ‘billionaire’ Yahya Kirdi (left) was welcomed to the Naxxar Lions board of directors by Michael Zammit Tabona
Syrian ‘billionaire’ Yahya Kirdi (left) was welcomed to the Naxxar Lions board of directors by Michael Zammit Tabona

The Lands Authority is in the process of transferring a tract of land in Gharghur to the SportsMalta agency, despite the project not yet having been approved by MPs.

The project is for a stadium for Naxxar Lions FC, which has attracted the interest of Syrian-Canadian investor Yahya Kirdi with a €10 million commercialisation project.

The transfer of land to SportsMalta is proceeding despite the issue not having yet been brought before parliament and despite the fact that the investor’s plans are clearly in conflict with the Commercialisation of Sports Facilities Regulations.

Two letters of intent have already been issued in May this year – right in the middle of the 2017 election campaign – one by the parliamentary secretariat for youth and sports, and one by the Lands Authority.

MaltaToday is informed that the parliamentary secretariat set up a commission to vet applications for projects falling under the new sports facilities rules. The primary role of this commission will be to ensure that all the projects proposed, not only provide a financial return to the investors, but also provide a clear path to growth and benefit for the sports clubs involved.

Chris Bonnett, the new SportsMalta CEO and also a senior consultant to parliamentary secretary Clifton Grima said that the law was there to ensure that commercial interests do not trump sporting benefits.

“In the case of the proposed Naxxar football club development, as in all other applications, the investor must not only show how he intends to recoup his investment, but also how the club is to become economically feasible and how the plan will benefit the club,” he said.

“The commission will ensure that the interests of the sports club are safeguarded as well as those of the investors,” he said.

In this specific case, the investor’s plans include the development of a hotel – but the law clearly states that such commercialisation projects cannot include hotels.

This is not Yahya Kirdi’s first attempt to invest in a football club, albeit it is far from the lofty ambitions he entertained some years ago.

Kirdi joined the football club’s board in May after club president and hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona was advised by former Manchester United player David Creery that Kirdi was looking to invest in a football club.

Kirdi had previously claimed to have a consortium from Canada and the Middle East to raise enough funds for a takeover of Liverpool FC but he was subsequently dismissed as a serious bidder by the club.

In April this year, Kirdi was reportedly fronting a bid to acquire small, fourth-tier football club Carlisle United in the UK, but in the end did not take over the Blues. Kirdi was in fact represented in talks with the Blues by McCreery’s son Nick.

Little information is available as to whether Kirdi is actually a billionaire. His company AK Obec Petroleum Ltd, set up in 2015, does not seem to have its own website. 

Kirdi’s Wikipedia account, translated from Arabic, claims that he was a “Lebanese star” and even appointed by the United Nations as its Ambassador to the World and Ambassador of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Canada, although this is not sufficiently corroborated by any statement from official UN sources.