Arnold Cassola lists development illegalities in MDA president’s libel case

During a court hearing, Arnold Cassola presented examples of alleged illegalities committed by Malta Developers Association president Michael Stivala under the Labour administration during Joseph Muscat's tenure

Politician Arnold Cassola has given examples in court of how Malta Developers Association president Michael Stivala had benefited under the Labour administration during the tenure of Joseph Muscat.

He gave evidence before Magistrate Rachel Montebello this morning, testifying as the defendant in a libel case filed by Malta Developers Association president Michael Stivala against him.

The libel proceedings had been filed over Facebook posts by Cassola concerning former prime minister Joseph Muscat's consultancy work with the Stivala Group.

Cassola had described Stivala as having been “gifted various illegalities” under the Muscat premiership. One post, titled “Robert Abela: lying about Joseph Muscat,” read that “Muscat got his ‘so-called consultancies’ from Accutor and Stivala in 2020, soon after his resignation.” Another post reads “Joseph Muscat’s payback time… Consultant with Stivala.”

Stivala had publicly confirmed employing Muscat as a consultant, just months after Muscat resigned as prime minister.

Through his lawyer, Vince Galea, Stivala is claiming that Cassola’s comments gave a false impression and were intended solely to sully Stivala's reputation.

Called to the witness stand by the plaintiff, Prof. Cassola confirmed that he had uploaded the Facebook posts himself. Galea asked him to read them out.
Pointing to the allegation that Stivala had “gifted various illegalities” to Muscat, he asked what these illegalities consisted of.

Cassola replied that he would be giving a non-exhaustive list in his testimony today, but would present a detailed affidavit before the next sitting.

The construction projects he mentioned included a multi storey ta’ Xbiex property built in 2016 on a buffer zone where high rise buildings could not legally be built. “By going around the police, he succeeded in building all this.”

Two years before, in 2014 Stivala had applied to develop the interior of a 19th Century Grade 2 house in St. Julians, near Barracuda, Cassola said. “This is a protected zone of the coast, as established in the local plan. The superintendence of cultural heritage had recommended that planning permission be refused…but through the usual interpretations or distortions of the law, the permit was approved…this all took place under Joseph Muscat’s premiership.”

Cassola added that the construction dust had been dumped in Balluta Bay, “turning the sea to cream,” and constituting another illegality.

A Gżira restaurant and adjacent hotel had been purchased by Stivala. Nine years of illegalities followed, Cassola said, telling the court that although many enforcement notices had been issued by the Planning Authority they had never been actioned by the authority.

Another restaurant across the road had been forced to close because of the dust, Cassola went on.

The defendant pointed to a private lido belonging to Stivala on the Gzira waterfront.  “In 2015, Stivala had declared to Parliament that this private pool was owned by a consortium and couldn’t be divided up…Today we see advertisements for parts of it being divided between four hotels.”

“Stivala is continuing with the illegalities and is ignoring court orders,” Cassola said. Asked what made him say this, he explained that a judge had issued an order for Stivala to stop construction works in Ponsomby Street, Gzira, “but he has carried on.”

Under the Muscat administration, Stivala’s excavators had destroyed archaeological sites and sewerage services, leaving residents to endure a stench for months, Cassola said.

His testimony was suspended until the next sitting for Cassola to submit an affidavit together with supporting evidence.

Galea asked for the case to be dealt with without delay: “These allegations, which are still not clear, are causing enormous problems to Stivala’s business interests,” he said.

The case will continue in March.

Eve Borg Costanzi is representing Cassola in the proceedings.