Former PN secretary-general purchased Paceville apartment block with Gaffarena

Purchase took place four months after Joe Saliba Saliba left his post as PN secretary general in 2008 

Former PN secretary general Joe Saliba
Former PN secretary general Joe Saliba

Former Nationalist Party secretary-general Joe Saliba purchased a block of apartments in the heart of Paceville together with entrepreneur Joe Gaffarena, four months after relinquishing his post in the PN in June 2008.

The sale of four apartments in Ball Street, Paceville, which included a penthouse, four apartments and a basement with a bar was purchased at a bargain price of €232,936 on 6 October, 2008.

It was resold exactly a year later, on 7 October, 2009 for €256,000 to the company BM Holdings & Investments, a company which together with Gaffarena Holdings owns the firm JGMB Estates Limited (directors Joe Gaffarena and Manuel Bonnici).

In a comment to MaltaToday back in 2008, just days after the Paceville property deal – which the newspaper was then unaware of – Saliba had denied that he was working with anyone in particular after his departure from the PN.

“I am not working with anybody. Ideally, I will work with anyone who asks for my services,” Saliba said, quipping that he would even work for MaltaToday if asked to be a consultant.

Saliba was touted for consultancy jobs in the private sector when interviewed on TVM’s Dissett in June 2008 after deciding not to stand for the post of PN secretary general, which he had held for nine years. “As I’ve said previously, there is no secret. I have a number of positive requests and I thank everyone since I was surprised at the number of requests I’ve had from the private sector for consultancy work, and I have to take a final decision.”

Saliba’s relationships with party donors have always elicited questions about the party’s financing and its concessions to big business.
In 2007 Saliba’s summer holiday was aboard business magnate Zaren Vassallo’s luxury yacht, leading to surmising about the links between politicians and businessmen.

The disclosure that Saliba had purchased an apartment block in Paceville with Joe Gaffarena reconfirms the public’s fears that the involvement of the political class with businessmen – even those who have previously been in the news for flouting planning regulations – is deep-rooted and crosses the political divide.

Joe Gaffarena hailed from Qormi and worked closely with various Nationalist politicians, notably George Hyzler and John Dalli.  
Gaffarena’s controversial petrol station in Qormi was granted a permit in 2006, two years before a general election. But in September 2008 it faced an enforcement order for illegal works on 80% of the construction. The enforcement order was issued three months after Joe Saliba stepped down from the post of secretary-general.

MEPA had then said that the application for sanctioning the illegal petrol station had been refused because the illegalities on site led to the further intensification of urbanisation in an outside development zone (ODZ).

In 2008, the authority issued an enforcement notice on the site and sealed off access to the entrance, given that Gaffarena had gone beyond the 2006 permit. But the J. Gaff Service Station still opened for business in summer 2009 and was again closed down by MEPA in September that year.

An application was then filed to sanction the existing works, with the applicant proposing the removal of two stairwells linking the first floor to the ground floor. But MEPA still refused to sanction the illegal building, saying that while it had no objection to most of the alterations, the additional floor, the reduction in water reservoirs and the replacement of rubble walls could not be accepted. It rejected the application by eight votes to four.

The refusal led to an altercation between one of the main opponents to the application, Giovanni Bonello, a retired judge of the European Court of Human Rights, then a member on MEPA, and Joe Gaffarena.

In  2011, an individual who referred to himself as ‘Gaffarena’ assaulted former Bonello at a St Julian’s restaurant for refusing to vote in favour of lifting the sanction on the petrol station. Gaffarena had denied Bonello’s claims, insisting that neither he nor any of his children had ever attacked him.

Under Labour in 2014 the Gaffarena family was granted a temporary clearance to reopen its petrol station in Qormi against a €500,000 bank guarantee. Gaffarena had said that his eight children had suffered “hardship” for five years due the station’s closure.

The former parliamentary secretary for planning, Michael Farrugia, 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”.

The notoriety of the Gaffarenas goes back a long way. In the early 1990s, Joe 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, his other business Mixer Ltd was again without the necessary permits. The company was later sold to Bastjan Dalli, brother of former Nationalist minister John Dalli.

Gaffarena later sold his shares in the Daewoo car sales agency to former ambassador Joseph Mary Scicluna. Although Gaffarena’s licence to sell the Korean cars was due to expire and no agreement to renew it was in place, the businessman received in return 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.

But the problems Joe Gaffarena faced with the petrol station pushed him closer to the government of the day. His son Marco was known to be close to Joe Sammut, the Labour MP, and even supported his political campaign. At one point both Sammut and Gaffarena were directors of an international trading company, International Tobacco Malta, now in dissolution.

Recent revelations of Marco Gaffarena’s controversial €1.65 million compensation  from the Government Property Division for the expropriation of a Valletta palazzo housing government offices, has shocked the public.

Additionally, the Gaffarena family’s involvement with the family of former acting police commissioner Ray Zammit raised numerous questions of conflicts of interest for the family of police officers; and former police inspector Daniel Zammit’s conduct in the prosecution of Joe Gaffarena’s son-in-law Stephen Caruana for murder. The links were the recent subject of an inquiry by Judge Michael Mallia.

Only last week Opposition leader Simon Busuttil filed multiple libel suits against GWU organs It-Torca and l-Orizzont after the newspapers published an affidavit by Joe Gaffarena, who claimed that as PN deputy leader, Busuttil in 2012 met him to discuss issuing a permit for his illegal petrol station, in return for information on former EU Commissioner John Dalli – who had been a business associate of Gaffarena back in the 1990s.

Busuttil has denied the reports, saying that it was Gaffarena who requested that his petrol station be granted a MEPA permit, but that Busuttil refused the “indecent offer”. Nothing has been said as to why MP Joe Cassar went out of his way to arrange for the meeting to happen.