Polidano's €100,000 fine for environmental crime reduced by 90%

A €100,000 fine for cutting down at least one protected 50-year-old Bay Laurel tree in Balzan was reduced by a factor of ten on appeal, for property developer Charles Polidano

The site in 2002 (inset) as it was when the illegal works started in Balzan
The site in 2002 (inset) as it was when the illegal works started in Balzan

A €100,000 fine handed to property developer Charles Polidano, aka ic-Caqnu, in 2013, for cutting down at least one 50-year-old Bay Laurel tree - a protected species - and demolishing a rubble wall on a property in Balzan, has been slashed by a factor of ten on appeal.

MEPA had issued an emergency conservation order over the site in July 2011, which was allegedly ignored by the developer, who had already cut down the trees by the time his application for the construction of 43 apartments, the restoration of two old houses, and an underground car park for 121 cars had been rejected by the MEPA board in 2009.

In 2013, a court of magistrates found Polidano guilty of serious breaches of environmental protection and planning laws, fining him €100,000.

Polidano filed an appeal, arguing that the proceedings were rendered null by a procedural defect that the eventual sentence was also null, as the first court failed give reasons for the finding of guilt.

The court of first instance placed the burden of proof on the accused, argued his lawyers Michael and Lucio Sciriha, whereas doubt should work in favour of the accused.

The construction magnate’s lawyers submitted that his conviction was ‘unsafe and unsatisfactory as “not a shred of evidence” of wrongdoing on his part had been exhibited - the prosecution had failed to discover the names of the workers who had stopped at the scene, nor had they been summoned to testify as to who they had been employed by.

The court of criminal appeal, with judge David Scicluna presiding, partially upheld the appeal, although the court ruled that a notarial deed was exhibited, showing Polidano as having signed off on notarial deeds transferring the property and on the MEPA application.

With regards to the punishment, which the appellant argued was excessive, the court took into account that only one tree was confirmed to be cut down and the rubble wall had already partially collapsed, due to extreme weather in the preceding years.

The court also said it could not ignore the fact that during the period in which the appeal was being heard, full development permission was granted over the area in question, under which it was to be preserved as a green enclave with a large number of trees and the building of a new rubble wall.

“It’s true that this permit was issued to another of the appellant’s companies - Polidano Holdings - but it deals with the same properties.

Although there appears to be a pending appeal on the issuing of the permit, the fact that it had been issued showed that the authorities achieved their aim in scheduling the properties concerned. Therefore there is room for tempering the punishment.”

The court of Criminal Appeal revoked the €100,000 fine, imposing a €10,000 fine in its stead, but also ordered Charles Polidano to bring himself in line with the emergency conservation order or pay a daily fine of  €130.

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