Murder middleman Melvin Theuma’s bid to turn menagerie into Safi villa set to be rejected

An attempt by Melvin Theuma to transform an agriculture store into a dwelling has hit a snag

Middleman: Melvin Theuma
Middleman: Melvin Theuma

An attempt by Melvin Theuma – the State witness against alleged mastermind Yorgen Fenech in the Daphne Caruana Galizia murder – to transform an agriculture store into a dwelling has hit a snag.

The Planning Authority case officer assessing the proposal has concluded that the proposal, a site on Triq il-Kuċċard in Ħal Safi, is “unacceptable”. A final decision on the development proposed by Theuma is due on 14 May.

In November 2016 Theuma was awarded a permit from the Planning Authority’s planning commission, then chaired by architect Elizabeth Ellul, to build an agricultural store instead of the smaller rural structures on the site. On that occasion the board chose to ignore the negative recommendation by the case officer to issue the permit.

Now the PA’s case officer said the proposed conversion of agricultural rooms into a residential building, located completely outside the development zone, is not as “a justified and legitimate development outside the development zone, and is therefore unacceptable in principle”.

The Environment and Resources Authority objected to the change of use from agricultural rooms into a residence, with the ERA noting that “the request for an agricultural store was simply a stepping stone so as to obtain a permit for a dwelling” and that “this piecemeal method has now become the preferred modus operandi”.

The ERA used this case to denounce what is becoming a common practice with applicants like Theuma, starting with a “development” under the pretext of agriculture to then scale it up into a residence. “Once this initial request is granted, it sets the ball rolling for further extensions, change of use and other ancillary facilities, each application being granted on the basis that the site is now committed.”

ERA’s predecessor – the Environment Protection Directorate – had already expressed doubts on the genuineness of his 2016 application. It had noted that “the new building, which is proposed on two floors (store at basement and another at ground floor), includes a staircase, a WC, a restroom and multiple apertures […] it is not akin to a typical agricultural store/s which normally seeks to maximize internal storage space.”

The Agricultural Advisory Committee had also questioned the agricultural motive behind the application since Theuma, and then a taxi driver was not even registered as a farmer when he submitted the application. It was only in July 2016 that Theuma was registered as a farmer with the permit being issued after he submitted “evidence of agricultural activity” – evidence consisting of photos “showing the tools owned by the applicant used for the current agricultural activity”.

In September 2019, Theuma was also granted a permit to develop six animal enclosures for goats, pheasants, chickens, rabbits and Maltese weasels.

The application was deemed to be in line with the rural policy which identifies the keeping of animals intended for research, educational, sport, leisure and exhibition purposes, as one of the acceptable rural activities outside development zones, provided that the animal enclosures are lightweight, visually permeable and of a high-quality rural design.