Jason Azzopardi denies meeting Zaren Vassallo over Lowenbrau deal

Former minister for Lands, Azzopardi, vehemently denies meeting PN benefactor Nazzareno Vassallo or interfering in the sale of the former Lowenbrau brewery

PN MP and former Minister for Lands, Jason Azzopardi, has vehemently denied meeting prominent businessman and PN benefactor Nazzareno Vassallo or interfering in the sale of the former Lowenbrau brewery in Qormi to Vassallo in 2009, allowing the land to be sold at 1990 values, for a mere €706,400.

Azzopardi filed the libel case after a speech by Bonnici in January, in which Bonnici alleged that that he was in a position to reveal that Nazzareno Vassallo went to speak to Jason Azzopardi and was promised a “compromise” over the land transfer.

“These are the words said and they are untrue,” Azzopardi testified this morning.

“I was parliamentary secretary for lands from January 2008 to January 2012, after which I was appointed minister in 2013.

In February 2011 Commissioner for Lands Albert Mamo had called me up and told me: ‘Minister I need to speak to you. I need to speak face to face.”

Azzopardi had met the Commissioner, he said.

“He was agitated and red faced. It was evident that his blood pressure was up. I asked what the matter was. He said ‘minister I’ve just been made aware that there was a contract for the redemption of ground rent which had been entered into behind my back which dropped a condition.”

The Lands department notary had drawn up the contract without Mamo’s consent, redeemed the ground rent and eliminated an important condition.

The alteration occurred when Mamo was on sick leave, Azzopardi explained.

The ground rent for the Lowenbrau factory was granted in perpetuity on condition that the area was to be used as a brewery. The latter condition had been removed.

“I called up (Attorney General) Peter Grech in Mamo’s presence and asked him to take all necessary steps, if necessary to rescind the contract.”

“On 7 March 2011,” Azzopardi said, showing the court the minutes of the meeting, he asked the AG to take legal action against the Government Property Division.

A few days after the order by minister Azzopardi, the Commissioner for Lands had filed a judicial letter against Vassallo Group, formally notifying them that they are being called upon to pay a sum of money for dropping the condition, failure to pay which would result in the rescission of the contract.

”I remember telling the AG, ‘Peter, do whatever it takes,’” Azzopardi told magistrate Francesco Depasquale this morning.

Later, Aldo Vella, a lawyer for Vassallo Group, contacted Azzopardi and asking for a meeting. “I told him I do not meet with people who have pending litigation with the department. There are proper channels, use them.”

The other side was not at all happy at the rebuff, said Azzopardi.

Paul Borg Olivier had told Azzopardi that over a month later, Zaren Vassallo was talking about him and calling him arrogant, for not granting him an appointment.

“So it’s a blatant lie for Owen Bonnici to say that I met with Zaren Vassallo... I never looked at faces, I have taken steps against PN diehards before.”

Also a lie was the stating he had sought a compromise, he said.

“It is not my modus operandi to seek compromises. That is for others to do.”

“In my life I never went to Lowenbrau, I never met Zaren Vassallo. He doesn’t speak to me to this day. I’m proud of it because I did what I was supposed to do. “

The case continues in December.

Lawyers Paul and Alessandro Lia are assisting Minister Owen Bonnici and lawyer Joe Zammit Maempel is counsel to Jason Azzopardi.

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