Labour Party: Spinola road property transfer ‘clear example of misrule of law’

MP Robert Abela said it was ironic coming from a person who tarnishes Malta’s name by claiming there is no rule of law

Julia Farrugia Portelli (left) and Robert Abela (right)
Julia Farrugia Portelli (left) and Robert Abela (right)

The Labour Party has said that the fact that MP Jason Azzopardi, during his time as minister responsible for Government lands, was aware, and involved in negotiations that led to a property in Spinola road, St Julian’s being sold, against the recommendation of the Government Housing Department’s Director General.

Addressing a press conference this afternoon, MP Robert Abela, and Parliamentary Secretary Julia Farrugia Portelli, both of whom are members of the Public Accounts Committee, which is currently investigating the case, reiterated that the property, which was later valued at €2.4 million, had ended up being sold for €525,000, of which only €35 were due to the government. This owing to a pre-existing agreement on properties administered by the government but which had previously belonged to the church.

During yesterday’s hearing, the committee heard the testimony of Iman Schembri, the former director of the Government Housing Department, who had advised that the property be granted by the government to the client on the basis of a perpetual emphyteusis – which would have seen the Government recuperate over €600,000.

Schembri said that the decision to sell the property had been taken at a meeting at the ministry, which Azzopardi was present for.

"This is a serious case of misrule of law,” said Abela. “You can speak about the rule of law, but we must note that at a time when Jason Azzopardi was a minister under a Nationalist administration, we had such a serious case of misrule of law by a person who ironically tarnishes our countries name in the international media on he rule of law.”

Moreover, Farrugia Portelli also questioned why Schembri could not find remarks he had made regarding the transfer in the minutes of meetings held at the time, in the case file.

She also noted that Schembri had said that, in addition to having been kept informed of any developments, then minister Azzopardi, had also discussed the case with Schembri on the phone on a number of occasions, and had always urged the director to conclude the case.

Reacting to the press conference, Azzopardi accused Abela and Farrugia Portelli of lying, insisting that the National Audit Office had found no sign of political interference on his part. Moreover, he dismissed Schembri’s testimony insisting that the Labour Party was basing its claims on the testimony of “an employee of Konrad Mizzi”.

He denied every having pressured Schembri, or anyone else working on the case through phone calls.