Villa Madama request to suspend eviction rejected during court suspension period

Anthony and Nadine Abela have been fighting an eviction by Lombard Bank for the past 14 years, arguing the bank is insisting on keeping a property worth over three times that of his debt

Villa Madama, Balzan
Villa Madama, Balzan

The elderly occupier of Villa Madama in Balzan and his wife have found themselves in an impossible situation after their
Company’s request to delay the execution of an eviction warrant by Lombard Bank was rejected by a Court during the pandemic suspension of court business, leaving them unable to contest the order. Legal Notice 65 of 2020 ordered the closure of the Courts of Justice with effect from 16 March 2020.  The final decree was given on 27 March 2020 when this Legal Notice was in force.

On 24 March, 2020 the First Hall of the Civil Court rejected the request because it appears that “there is no valid reason for a stay” and therefore the warrant of eviction was to take its course and proceed until execution against the couple’s company, Venues Company Ltd. The Court pointed out that the request for an interim measure had been rejected in the constitutional case.

Anthony Abela and his wife have owned and operated the historical Balzan villa since the end of 1999 but Lombard Bank forced its sale.
Abela claims that there were many irregularities in the forced sale of their property and he had been fighting an ongoing legal campaign against their eviction by Lombard Bank for the past 14 years. Villa Madama was their business and their main income source.

Abela is arguing that the bank wants the property at all costs and has resisted his efforts to settle the debt. He claims to have approached the CEO several times in the past 8 years to settle his dues in full and get Villa Madama back, but was rebuffed every time by the CEO, in person. 
“While other countries are looking at the COVID-19 crisis as a problem of a singular and unprecedented character, in particular in terms of its economic and societal implications, the Court is not concerned with my situation at all in my case”, Abela said.

“While the containment measures taken by governments across Europe encounter universal support in view of the fact that large parts of the economy are at a standstill, the Courts seem to be treating my case from a different perspective now.”

“The emergency situation and the closure of the Courts of Justice in Malta seem to have passed over my head in my case, and the Courts are making an exception and ignoring any mitigating factors”, Abela added.

The constitutional case that was filed last year but is pending before the Court concerns the order in which the Appeal Court first decided the eviction case and then decided a preliminary issue, while it should have been the other way around. His contestation also centres around the argument that Lombard Bank is insisting on keeping a property worth over three times the amount of his debt. 
Abela is arguing that their fundamental human rights have been trampled on and that an interim measure was logically required to stop the eviction until the outcome of the constitutional case. That request was rejected on 27 Febuary 2020.
At that point Abela filed a request for a stay of execution of the warrant of eviction until the outcome of the constitutional case becomes known. However, this was also rejected by the Court on 24 March 2020, whilst the pandemic suspension of court business was already in force with effect from 16 March 2020. This, together with the fact that Abela is over 65 years old and must therefore abide by the government’s stay-at-home order, has left the Company owned by the Abelas unable to contest the matter in court as the courts are closed and all time-limits are suspended due to the pandemic. 

As a result of the latest measure taken by the courts in upholding Lombard Bank’s insistent requests, which the Abelas are describing as
“abusive,” the case will now likely end up before the European Court of Human Rights as he received no protection despite having filed a constitutional case last year.

The Abelas argued that in its application for the eviction, the bank had mentioned the fact that it had won the case before the court of appeal, but had omitted to mention that there was also a pending constitutional case over the property, with a sitting scheduled for May.
On March 5, Abela was notified with a copy of the warrant of eviction, which he was not expecting in view of the ongoing constitutional
proceedings and because he had not been notified with the decree allowing the warrant to be executed. 

In their court application, the Abelas said they would be contesting these measures. Now that the execution has been allowed  notwithstanding the Courts’ closure on account of the pandemic, Abela says that his grievances have been compounded as he is worse off than others who had pending proceedings against them and whose cases were at a standstill.