PL, PN mum over donations from Gaffarena

Labour fails to answer questions on whether it received donations from Gaffarenas, PN says it will provide answer after checking records

The two major political parties have so far failed to reply to questions on whether they received donations from property owner Marco Gaffarena, or members of his family before and after the 2013 general election.

Gaffarena – at the centre of a storm over a €1.65 million expropriation deal he benefitted from – has reportedly financially supported both political parties over the past years.

The Gaffarenas are thought to have backed candidates from both the PN and Labour camps, especially in the sixth and seventh electoral districts.

MaltaToday asked both parties whether they received any monies from the Gaffarenas and how much these donations amounted to. 

While no reply was forthcoming from Labour president Daniel Micallef by the time of writing, a PN spokesperson told MaltaToday that they would “check [their] records for this information and revert accordingly”.

However, the Opposition spokesperson said: “the Nationalist Party has amply demonstrated that it is not in anyone’s pockets. Evidence of this is the fact that during a PN administration the petrol station owned by Mr Gaffarena’s family in Qormi remained closed because of illegal works and this was opened only after Labour was returned to office in 2013.” 

He added that under the previous PN government, MEPA had issued an enforcement notice over an illegal restaurant Gaffarena owns in Qormi.

Controversy engulfed Gaffarena when it was revealed that in January and April 2015 he was paid €822,500 in cash and then granted seven parcels of government land, worth another €822,500, for the expropriation of his 50% ownership in a Valletta building that houses the government offices of the Building Industry Consultative Council.

The deal has raised suspicion on two counts: Gaffarena was compensated in January 2015 for a 25% share in the property, and then again in April after he managed to buy another 25% in February; and because the lands he was given abutted on property he already owned or which he intends to develop.

The Gaffarena clan has a long and checkered history of building without the necessary permits or in outside-development-zone (ODZ) and running illegal operations.

Over the years, the Gaffarenas have switched political allegiance after failing to gain a permit for a petrol station in Qormi under the previous PN administration. However, the Gaffarenas did not enter the political fray two years ago and their first involvement in a political scandal came before the turn of the new millennium. 

The Daewoo scandal

In the early nineties Joe Gaffarena, the director of the family business and father of Marco Gaffarena, was involved in a controversy over the location of the Daewoo car showroom in Mdina Road, Qormi, which was originally built without a planning permit, as was its car storage at Hal Farrug. 

On the same premises, Joe Gaffarena also had another business, Planka Ltd, again without the necessary permits.

The company was later sold to Bastjan Dalli, brother of former Nationalist minister John Dalli, who renamed the company Mixer Ltd. 

Joe Gaffarena later sold his shares in the Daewoo car sales agency to former ambassador Joseph Mary Scicluna. 

Although Joe Gaffarena’s licence to sell the Korean cars was due to expire and no agreement to renew it was in place, the businessman received several properties, including the Three Rocks Hotel and a large plot of land in Bahrija and the Dacia Car Sales Agency, in addition to a cash payment in return.

Qormi petrol station 

In 2014, Marco Gaffarena – a shareholder in J Gaff Service Station Ltd – was granted a controversial permit for the J. Gaff service station in Qormi by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, after it had been forcefully shut down in 2008 and again in 2009 after its owners built new structures on site illegally. 

The Gaffarena family was granted a temporary clearance to reopen its petrol station in Qormi against a €500,000 bank guarantee. 

In reaction to the controversial permit, Joe Gaffarena said that his eight children had suffered “hardship” for five years due to the station’s closure. 

The Gaffarenas not only applied to sanction illegalities on the site of the ODZ petrol station, which had already been refused by MEPA in 2011, but also applied to construct a 31-square metre food and beverage outlet, with six car washes on the same site. 

Gaffarena was awarded a permit to erect the petrol station in 2007, but subsequent additions were made without a permit. 

In January 2011, MEPA turned down the sanctioning of extension works to Gaffarena’s petrol station because the illegalities on site were resulting in the further intensification of urbanization in an outside development zone. 

Way back in 2008, MEPA had issued an enforcement notice and sealed off access to the entrance, given that Gaffarena had wilfully decided to go beyond the approved planning permission he got in 2006 for the construction of the petrol station. 

Following the issuing of the permit last year, the former parliamentary secretary for planning, Michael Farrugia had defended the decision, insisting that everyone should be given an opportunity to regularise their position, and that Gaffarena had been “promised a permit before the elections.”

But Nationalist MP and MEPA board member Ryan Callus had dismissed Farrugia’s claims, insisting that MEPA had twice turned down Gaffarena’s application under the previous administration. 

The Bonello incident 

In 2011, an individual who referred to himself as ‘Gaffarena’ assaulted former judge Giovanni Bonello, who had firmly opposed the permit application while serving as a MEPA board member. The former European Court of Human Rights judge said he was attacked in a restaurant in St Julian’s for refusing to vote in favour of lifting the sanctions on Gaffarena’s petrol station. 

Joe Gaffarena had denied Bonello’s claims, insisting that neither he nor any of his children had ever attacked Bonello.

Illegal restaurant in Qormi 

For years Marco Gaffarena has operated an illegal restaurant and entertainment venue in tal-Handaq, Qormi.

Despite being served with an enforcement notice by MEPA in 2012, the venue known as Tac-Cavett continues to promote itself for pool parties and BBQ’s. 

The entertainment venue is categorised as an “agricultural holding” in MEPA documents and was one of the seven parcels of land given to Gaffarena in exchange for half of the Old Mint Street building in Valletta. 

ODZ old people’s home in Birgu

This year, Joseph Gaffarena re-applied to construct a four-storey high old people’s home in an afforested area outside development zones in Birgu. 

The development, which is being proposed over a 2,770 square metre site, would be located in the vicinity of the protected Tal-Hawli valley. 

The application, which is still being screened by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority was presented by Prof. Mark Brincat on behalf of St Paul Residential Homes Limited, which is owned by Joseph Gaffarena.

Labour MP Charles Buhagiar is listed as “project architect” in the plans submitted to MEPA.

Buhagiar is government-appointed chairman of the Building Industry Consultative Council – the Valletta offices for which Marco Gaffarena was granted a €1.65 million expropriation deal.

The application was filed in September 2013 and Buhagiar submitted fresh plans to MEPA on 22 May, 2015. 

Clarification and apologies: In the printed version of the MaltaToday Wednesday edition, the photograph of a certain Saviour Attard accompanied this article, instead of that of Joe Gaffarena. The technical error is regretted.