MP gave PN donation after Gaffarena refused money for car he ‘sold’ him

Joe Gaffarena told former PN minister to donate money to Nationalist Party instead of paying him for second-hand car he ‘sold’ to Joe Cassar

Joe Cassar said he paid an unspecified amount of money to the PN for a secondhand car he acquired from entrepreneur Joe Gaffarena
Joe Cassar said he paid an unspecified amount of money to the PN for a secondhand car he acquired from entrepreneur Joe Gaffarena

Businessman Joe Gaffarena refused to be paid for a car acquired by Nationalist MP Joe Cassar, and asked the then Cabinet minister to donate the money to the Nationalist Party, MaltaToday can reveal. 

Asked to clarify the matter, former health minister Joe Cassar told MaltaToday denied that the vehicle in question had been a gift, “because I paid for it.”

The deal took place in 2012, in the turbulent months which led to the demise of the Nationalist government, in which Cassar served as health minister.  

“This was an 11-year old second-hand car which my family bought for my daughter when she turned 18,” Cassar said.

He added that, “Mr Gaffarena, who was a family acquaintance, refused the money and asked to donate them to PN. A receipt for the money I paid was issued.”

The MP added that despite his acquaintance with Gaffarena, “at no point did I ever give him anything untoward, not a licence for his petrol station and certainly not a multi-million compensation for half a property in Valletta. This is something that Joseph Muscat and Michael Falzon must answer for.”

A PN spokesperson told MaltaToday that Cassar would be providing the newspaper with a copy of the receipt by Wednesday morning since he did not have access to the document at the time of going to print.

Earlier on Tuesday, while answering questions during a PN press conference a visibly uncomfortable Cassar refused to elaborate on his links with the Gaffarena family saying that he had a libel case and he would be declaring under oath how he knew the Joe Gaffarena.

[WATCH] Nationalist MP deflects question over Gaffarena association

Side-stepping a direct question on whether he accepted any donations from Gaffarena, Cassar said: “the question you should be asking is not what I received from Gaffarena but what he received in return and it is clear that he received a lot from this government.” 

Pressed to say what sort of donations he received, Cassar said, “this is not the appropriate forum”.

His answers came in reply to questions over MPs’ association with Gaffarena, after MaltaToday broke news on Sunday that an IAID inquiry had found land values for the expropriation of a property owned by Joe Gaffarena’s son, Marco, by the Government Property Department had been “illegal”. 

In the early 1990s, Joe Gaffarena was involved in a controversy over the location of the Daewoo car showroom in Qormi, which was originally built without a planning permit, as was its car storage at Hal Farrug. 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.

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 two major political parties have so far failed to provide any details on donations received by Gaffarena family 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.

Old Mint Street expropriation

On Sunday, MaltaToday revealed that the Office of the Prime Minister could be in a strong legal position to recoup lands granted to Marco Gaffarena, from a controversially fast-track expropriation of a Valletta palazzino he owned. 

An inquiry by the OPM’s internal audit and investigations department (IAID) which was handed over to the Auditor General, has revealed that the lands granted to Gaffarena as payment for the Valletta property expropriated from him, was in excess of a legal 30% ceiling which such land valuations cannot exceed. 

Marco Gaffarena made headlines this year when The Times revealed that the property owner was granted €1.65 million in a land and cash compensation, for just a 50% stake in the Old Mint Street building that houses government offices for the Building Industry Consultative Council. The €1.65 million expropriation was controversial because Gaffarena originally took ownership of 25% of the building in 2007 for just €23,294 – and was compensated €822,500 in cash and lands in January 2015. 

But in February 2015 he had also managed to purchase another 25% portion of the building for €139,762, and was paid another €822,500 in lands and cash in April 2015. 

He also personally selected the lands for compensation, all of which were situated close to land he owned or leased, or which he intended to develop, adding even more value to the property he received in compensation. 

The IAID discovered a trend of excessive valuations of land which may have been ongoing since 2008. 

In the Gaffarena case, the land transferred was in excess of a 30% ceiling set in the Disposal of Government Land Act: that in land exchanges, the value of the government land to be given cannot exceed 30% of the value of the expropriated land.

Replying to questions from MaltaToday on the IAID investigation, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi urged for “prudence” on commenting on the IAID findings, since the National Audit Office is also investigating the Gaffarena expropriation deal. Azzopardi said the Opposition always insisted that something “stank” with the deal that saw Gaffarena take €1.65 million in a cash-and-lands deal for his 50% ownership an Old Mint Street palazzo that houses governments offices. “Someone should answer for it… Now that the NAO is investigating the IAID report, we prefer waiting for the outcome,” he said. 

Azzopardi added that he, former finance minister Tonio Fenech and former Lands Commissioner Albert Mamo had been called in for an interview by the IAID. “Fenech and I were asked about two cases which had nothing to do with this case,” he said, confirming that the two cases were pre-2013. He added that despite asking to give his statement under oath, his request was not acceded to.