Court orders Qala eviction in Abbazia case, over incorrect property registration

Gozo 17th century property foundation says Gozitan families obtained property titles based on incorrect notarial contracts

A Gozitan family has been ordered to evict their Qala home in a court decision that is bound to affect dozens of other families whose houses are built on land owned by the Abbazia di Sant’ Antonio delli Navarra, a 17th century foundation.

A court ordered the property of Josephine Cauchi to revert back to the foundation, for the registration to be effected in the names of the rector – Patrick Valentino – together with Dei Conti Holdings Limited, a private company that manages the interests of the Abbazia’s land claims.

Dei Conti Holdings is owned by the Stagno Navarra family – presumed heirs of the noblewoman Cosmana Cumbo Stagno Navarra – which runs the the Abbazia’s properties together with Carrac Properties, owned by the family of former magistrate Dennis Montebello, and Gozitan lawyer Carmelo Galea.

Gozo: State delisted Abbazia property on Church’s request ‘no questions asked’

The 1675 foundation was created to have a multitude of lands in Qala and Nadur, run by Cosmanna Navarra’s male heirs, and then by a ‘rector’ appointed by the Archbishop should no heir be available at the time.

In the case under question, the Abbaiza challenged the registration of property titles on land listed under the 1675 deed.

This particular land was leased for 99 years back in 1891 by the administrator of the foundation. Those ground rents expired in August 1990, leading the alleged heir of Cosmanna Navarra – the late Richard Stagno Navarra – to contest their registration with the Land Registry by the occupants of the properties on the land.

A Gozo Court this week found that an error was committed in 1959 when, during a partition of the lands to assign two plots to one Anthony Buttigieg, the notary registered the ground rents as being payable to the Gozo Cathedral.

Well after the 99-year emphyteusis had expired, Buttigieg donated the lands to his niece Josephine Cauchi in 1996, with the donation being registered as “free and unencumbered” land, since the ground rent to the Church had been fully redeemed a few years earlier. Subsequently, Cauchi obtained titles on the property at the Land Registry in 2004.

In 2017, the Maltese Archbishop formally relinquished control of the Abbazia to a new ‘rector’ – lawyer Patrick Valentino – appointed by the Stagno Navarras to start court proceedings and take back the Abbazia’s land.

Valentino argued that the redemption of the ground rent in the case of the Cauchis’ property in Qala, had been irregular. He said it should have been the Abbazia to be informed before converting the temporary ground rent to a perpetual one by means of a public contract.

Based on all evidence, the court, presided over by Magistrate Brigitte Sultana, said the crux of the issue revolved around the expiry of the temporary ground rent, and that the transfer of the property had occurred after the emphyteusis had expired.

Church relinquishes control

The case was filed by the new administrators of the Abbazia, which previously had been been controlled by the Church.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who was head of the Maltese archdiocese had the right to appoint the Abbazia’s rector when no direct male heir was identifiable, had accepted back in 2017 to give control of the foundation back to the Stagno Navarras’ chosen appointee – Valentino.

Scicluna had told the court that the hereditary rights of the Stagno Navarra family were never in doubt. Scicluna had also said that the properties were never transferred to the Joint Office, the entity which in 1987 was entrusted to take over all Church-owned properties.

Before he became archbishop, the Maltese archdiocese had always insisted that the Abbazia was an ‘ecclesiastical’ foundation: in 2013, it had successfully repealed the pretensions of the late Richard Stagno Navarra, who failed in a court appeal to take control of the Abbazia.

In 2017, Scicluna settled the matter by relinquishing the claims for a €200,000 donation that had to be used as pious obligations for the repose of the soul of Cosmanna Navarra.