Joe Gaffarena paid for home works at Cassar’s farmhouse

MaltaToday on Sunday reveals the extent of former health minister Joe Cassar’s relationship with property entrepreneur Joe Gaffarena

The receipt from Devlands Limited, clearly stating that it has been paid by Joe Gaffarena for works carried out Joe Cassar's Dingli house
The receipt from Devlands Limited, clearly stating that it has been paid by Joe Gaffarena for works carried out Joe Cassar's Dingli house

The Nationalist MP and former health minister who claimed in Parliament that property entrepreneur Joe Gaffarena had “nothing to do with the construction of his house in Dingli”, had an €8,150 bill for construction works at his Dingli farmhouse paid by Gaffarena.

MaltaToday can confirm that despite his efforts at deflecting questions related to donations by Gaffarena – among them a home CCTV system and a car for his family – Joe Cassar had works done at his Dingli home that were financed by the Gaffarena patriarch, a long-time Nationalist donor whose rupture with the PN came in 2008 when he was denied a permit for his petrol pump’s illegal extension.

The construction works were carried out at a time when Cassar was health minister, implying that he should have declared Gaffarena’s financing as a gift.

But in a speech in the House on Thursday where he claimed his family was being threatened by “blackmail” and that he was the victim of a frame-up, Joe Cassar told MPs that he never had a “judicial relationship” with Gaffarena in relation to the construction of his house.

The statement was a reference at an earlier speech by parliamentary secretary for lands Michael Falzon, who without mentioning Cassar by name, insinuated that an MP had works done for him by a particular donor.

Now MaltaToday is in possession of a document dated 14 December 2011, showing that Joe Gaffarena paid construction company Devlands Ltd for the construction of a stone staircase, a water reservoir, a rubble wall and soil landscaping at Cassar’s Dingli home “by method of barter of fuel from J. Gaff Petrol Station”.

Another receipt seen by MaltaToday shows that Gaffarena also paid an €800 bill for a CCTV security system, of which Cassar told Parliament that he had “spent various months running after this installer to pay him, only to be avoided”.

In recent months, Cassar has been frantically calling up various contractors asking them for invoices for works carried out in his farmhouse in Dingli although many of them – including the company that installed Cassar’s security system – cannot issue a new invoice since Gaffarena had already been invoiced for the works.

But only last Thursday in a dramatic speech in the House, Cassar claimed that it was Joe Gaffarena who insisted on installing a CCTV security system at his house. “He would always tell me that I lacked security cameras around my house, sending shivers down my wife’s spine,” Cassar said. “Months later I found somebody outside my house installing them.”

Cassar used his speech to hit out at the embattled parliamentary secretary for lands Michael Falzon, under whose tenure Gaffarena’s son Marco was granted a controversial €1.65 million expropriation for a Valletta property, which is now under investigation by the National Audit Office. 

His speech was informed by news published on Wednesday by MaltaToday, in which this newspaper reported Cassar’s admission that he had been ‘sold’ a car by Joe Gaffarena in 2012, which he set off against a €1,000 donation to the PN.

While Labour accused Cassar of breaching ministerial ethics by not declaring the gift, Cassar asked the Speaker of the House for “protection” after oddly claiming that the car he had been ‘sold’ was part of a “frame-up” orchestrated by Labour. 

Vehicle sold in wake of expropriation scandal

Earlier this week, Cassar told MaltaToday that he set off the acquisition of a second-hand vehicle in 2012 against a €1,000 donation to the Nationalist Party.

Cassar claimed the vehicle was for his daughter’s 18th birthday, and that he decided to purchase it from Joe Gaffarena out of compassion for his financial troubles, which had worsened after in 2008 he was refused a MEPA permit to sanction an abusive extension of his J.Gaff petrol pump station in Qormi.

But MaltaToday is informed that the vehicle, a 2001 Peugeot 307 XS 2.0 HDi, was registered in Cassar’s wife’s name on 20 March 2012.

On the other hand, the receipt for the €1,000 donation Cassar gave to the PN shows that the donation was made almost a year later, on 9 February 2013.

Cassar also refused to provide any more information on the value of the vehicle as it was insured, and whether his family was still in possession of the car. “I have nothing more to add to the detailed explanation I gave in Parliament [on Thursday], during which I explained the frame up which was done against me. 24 hours later, I am still waiting for the Labour Party to reply to my questions,” Cassar told MaltaToday on Friday.

MaltaToday has learnt however that the Gaffarenas acquired the car, licensed PEU307, on 9 March 2012; two weeks later, Cassar’s wife Anna Maria became the vehicle’s fifth different owner. Then on 22 June 2015 – three weeks after news of the Old Mint Street expropriation scandal broke – Cassar sold the hatchback to an Qormi auto-dealer. That same day, the car was re-sold to a Marsa man.

But auto-dealers contacted by MaltaToday said that the Peugeot 307 by far exceeds the €1,000 the former minister donated to the PN: the top-or-the-range hatchback cost some €21,000 back in 2001, and on today’s used-car market would fetch anything between €5,000 and €6,000.

A quick look at online adverts showed that Peugeot 307s of the same calibre and age fetch up to €5,600. 

Former whistleblower

In 2007, Cassar played a crucial role in unearthing a scandal involving the then health minister Louis Deguara’s assistant private secretary, when a client of his told him that he was told to pay bribes just so that he could be medically “boarded out” from the civil service. The minister’s aide, Thomas Woods, was duly sacked but poignantly, these gifts included “rabbits and fish”.

It turned out that it was 71-year-old Saverin Sinagra, of Zejtun, who would collect Lm600 payments to hand them over to Thomas Woods, to direct people as to how to obtain an invalidity pension in just six months.

Timeline From Old Mint Street’s expropriation scandal to Gaffarena’s undeclared gifts

31 May • The Sunday Times reveals that Joe Gaffarena’s son Marco Gaffarena was paid €1.65 million in a land and cash expropriation, for just a 50% stake in the Old Mint Street building that houses government offices for the Building Industry Consultative Council. The 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. 

• Prime Minister Joseph Muscat orders an inquiry by the Internal Audit and Investigations Department, while the PN request an investigation by the National Audit Office and demand the resignation of Michael Falzon.

4 August • In an affidavit, Joe Gaffarena says former health minister Joe Cassar set up a meeting for him with Simon Busuttil “to bring all papers” related to the Daewoo scandal that also implicated Nationalist persona non grata John Dalli.

 Busuttil denied requesting the 2012 meeting in which Gaffarena was said to have expected a permit for the Qormi petrol station could be issued in exchange for files related to the Daewoo scandal. Busuttil denies the allegations and files four libel suits against l-Orizzont newspaper.

• Gaffarena also claimed that Michael Fenech Adami – former Birkirkara mayor and Beppe Fenech Adami’s brother – visited him at the petrol station and asked for €1,500 in adverts on Net TV. 

25 October • MaltaToday reveals that an inquiry by the OPM’s internal audit and investigations department (IAID) has found that 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.

27 October • In a press conference where they are asked over the consequences of the IAID inquiry’s findings on Marco Gaffarena, Cassar tells MaltaToday that any donations he might have received from the Gaffarenas were against a receipt issued by the Nationalist Party. 

His answer 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 Gaffarena’s land by the Government Property Department had been “illegal”.

“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,” the PN MP said, deflecting a straight question on whether he accepted any donations from Gaffarena. 

28 October • Cassar tells MaltaToday, after being pressed on the matter by the newspaper, that businessman Joe Gaffarena refused to be paid for a car acquired by the MP in 2012, and instead asked the then Cabinet minister to donate the money to the Nationalist Party. Cassar told MaltaToday denied that the vehicle in question had been a gift, “because I paid for it”.

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

28 October • Opposition leader Simon Busuttil stands by Cassar, insisting that the reports on the car purchase are simply a “game to deviate public attention from scandals under the Labour government”. 

“Joe Cassar never gave Gaffarena what he was after, which was a permit for his illegally-built petrol station and exaggerated compensation for the sale of half a house in Valletta,” Busuttil told MaltaToday. “Indeed, Gaffarena switched parties and received what he wanted under Labour.”

“Gaffarena refused to be compensated for the car, but Cassar kept on insisting, until Gaffarena finally told him to pay the money as a donation. No sense of obligation was created, evidenced by the fact that Cassar didn’t give Gaffarena what he was after, leading him to switch allegiance.

29 October • In parliament, Cassar alleges that Gaffarena’s car and a CCTV system he installed on his house were now part of a frame-up against him, and demands “the protection of the Speaker” against the “threat of blackmail against [his] family”.

Cassar admits having donated €1,000 to the PN in February 2013 for the 2012 vehicle purchase from Gaffarena, which he said did not want payment for.

“Mr Joe Gaffarena would always ask to meet with me because in me, he found somebody ready to listen to him. He cried to me when the Nationalist government prohibited him from opening a petrol pump station he [extended] illegally. He would tell me his family had nothing to live from,” Cassar said of his relationship with Gaffarena, formerly a car importer.