Businessman gets raw deal as fishing co-operative defies Lands Authority eviction

A fisheries company is being evicted from what turned out to be an illegal sub-lease, yet the cooperative that rented out the place in the first place has not yet been kicked out despite an order by the Lands Department in 2015

Angelic Mifsud said the situation would not stand in democratic countries
Angelic Mifsud said the situation would not stand in democratic countries

A company which has been ordered by a court of law to evict a Marsaxlokk premises where it invested some €1.5 million in, is calling on Prime Minister Joseph Muscat to investigate why the Lands Department did not move to evict the fishing co-operative which sub-let the premises illegally in the first place.

Angelic Mifsud’s company – Lambusa Maritime Company Limited – has been ordered to vacate the premises it was sub-leasing from the Ghaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd, which was itself served with an eviction notice in 2015 by the Lands Department.

Mifsud, who lost his case against the fishing coop, is planning to take the matter to a higher court. “Why has the co-operative not been evicted from a building they no longer have a title on? Why did the Lands Department not enforce its decision to evict the co-operative, while I will be duly obeying the court order tomorrow Monday? If anything both of us should be evicted,” Mifsud told MaltaToday.

The Prime Minister is yet to answer the four letters Mifsud sent over the past few weeks, and in comments to MaltaToday the aggrieved Mifsud said the eviction will bring serious repercussions upon his business, which has already been stalled for four years.

An appeals court recently upheld the decision to evict Lambusa Maritime Company Limited after being found guilty of not honouring its contractual obligations with the coop, which sub-leased the premises to him.

“Why am I being evicted from a building which the co-operative had no right to sub-let in the first place? After all I have paid my dues and settled all the payments,” Mifsud said. “The ambiguity has confused me. Who should I believe and trust? The lands department or the courts?” 

The co-op is in fact still making use of the building, despite having been ordered to vacate the premises by the Government Property Division, is now known as the Lands Authority.

Angelic Mifsud says this invoice, presented in court as evidence that the co-operative has paid its rent to the Lands Authority, in fact carries the address of another fishing co-operative in Marsaxlokk
Angelic Mifsud says this invoice, presented in court as evidence that the co-operative has paid its rent to the Lands Authority, in fact carries the address of another fishing co-operative in Marsaxlokk

Co-op’s eviction ignored

In June 2015, the co-operative was informed by the GPD that its lease would not be renewed, and was given up to the end of December 2015 to vacate the building. 

The GPD ordered the eviction because the 1982 agreement between the government and the co-op prohibits sub-letting of the premises. But this was breached more than once.

The GPD’s Lands Department had investigated at least three instances when the co-op illegally sub-let the premises. Over the years, part of the premises for which the co-op pays just €700 in annual rent, was used as a fish shop, an insurance broker office, and more recently as a fish packaging and storage facility run by Lambusa Maritime – who paid €36,000 a year for the sub-lease.

After the eviction order, Mifsud stopped paying the sub-lease.

The co-op is however still using the building, because the GPD never enforced the eviction. “This is completely unfair as from tomorrow, the co-operative – which has completely ignored the eviction by the Lands Department – can make use of my company’s freezing and packaging equipment,” Mifsud said.

Additionally, in various court cases involving the co-operative and Lambusa, the GPD’s witnesses in court made it clear that the lease had been terminated and that the department wanted the return of the keys.

“The co-operative has no title on the building, however it has presented invoices showing that it paid its lease for 2017. This makes no sense. Why should anyone pay a lease which has not been renewed?” Mifsud asked.

It turns out that the Lands Authority is investigating whether the invoices – presented in court by the co-op – pertain to rents paid for another building.

Indeed, the invoices seen by MaltaToday are addressed to Koperattiva tas-Sajd Ltd, Dar is-Sajjieda, Xatt is-Sajjieda, Marsaxlokk, which is the address of a separate co-operative which has a title over a structure at the other end of the Marsaxlokk seafront.

“Naturally, the question is how did the co-operative get hold of invoices which do not belong to it and why did it present them in court…” Mifsud contended.

Letter to Prime Minister

In his letter to the prime minister, Mifsud explains that after the Lands Department declared in court that the lease had been terminated in 2015, the co-operative insisted that this was untrue and insisted they had paid the lease up until the year 2017.

“On one hand the Lands Department is claiming under oath the lease had been terminated in 2015, and on the other, the co-operative is claiming the opposite,” Mifsud said.

“I have in my possession evidence, through receipts presented by the co-operative in court, stating that they paid the said lease until 2017. When I asked to get the receipts verified from the Lands Department, the response was that such receipts are null and void. So much so that the receipts presented in Court did not have any relation to the premises in question, that is, 150 Xatt tas-Sajjieda, Marsaxlokk.”

Mifsud is insisting that the onus of proof should be on the co-operative, claiming that what was presented to the law courts was false evidence.

“This situation would not stand in democratic jurisdictions… Although this may seem as though it is a sweeping statement, the Lands Department have insisted it themselves. The Lands Department prolonged the case due to collusive actions. Lastly, when I asked the Lands Department on why the Co-operative has not been evicted from the premises, I was left without an answer,” his heartfelt letter to the PM reads. 

“I have approximately lost €1.5 million on the investment I made to the premises. The building is in a desolate state and all of the pending bills have been paid by me when I should not have. The premises were being let to the Co-operative €698.81 yearly whereas the premises were further sub-let to me for €36,000 a year.”

In November 2016, MaltaToday reported that government slapped the same Ghaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd with a judicial letter after it failed to pay a €95,407 loan granted in 2002. The co-operative is led by Paul Piscopo – who in 2013 was caught importing diesel illegally when his vessel was found carrying 40,000 litres of diesel, 8,000 litres of which were allegedly being brought into Malta illegally. 

But in his judicial protest against the Customs director-general, Piscopo argued that other vessels found carrying undeclared diesel were offered the opportunity to enter into an administrative arrangement to pay the customs due on the fuel but he was not.