Fekruna Bay expropriation was illegal, despite NAO report, Labour MP insists

The deal was illegal because the value of the public land given to the owners of the land at tal-Fekruna Bay exceeded 30% of the value of the expropriated land, Robert Abela insisted

PAC government member Robert Abela insisted the NAO's report on the Fekruna Bay expropriation had missed an important legal point
PAC government member Robert Abela insisted the NAO's report on the Fekruna Bay expropriation had missed an important legal point

The deal reached by Jason Azzopardi to expropriate land in Fekruna Bay breached the law, despite an Auditor General’s report not finding any wrongdoing, Robert Abela said.

In today’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, which is currently discussing the saga of the transfer of land in tal-Fekruna Bay, Xemxija, days before the 2013 election, the Labour MP and government member of the Committee said that the deal breached the rule with sets out that the value of the public land given in exchange for privately-owned land which is being expropriated cannot exceed 30% of the value of that expropriated land.

The Fekruna Bay land, which had been valued at €5 million, had been expropriated by the government, with the tal-Fekruna owners having been given two properties, one in Swieqi, the other in San Gwann, valued jointly at €4.3 million, as payment. Azzopardi was the parliamentary secretary responsible for the Lands Department at the time.

Azzopardi has repeatedly said during PAC sittings that the National Auditor Office’s investigation on the land transfer had found that he had done nothing wrong, and that the Auditor General only noted “administrative shortcomings” in the deal.

But Abela today said that the report had “missed a very important point”, and that it was evident that the deal had breached the 30% legal ceiling rule. “The 30% rule was something you emphasised so much on in the Old Mint Street case (an unrelated controversial land expropriation deal, dating back to 2015, involving entrepreneur Marco Gaffarena),” Abela told Azzopardi.

At this point Abela called in Deputy Auditor General Noel Camilleri, who said that, in drawing up its report on the case, the NAO had not entered into the matter of the 30% rule. “So the AG’s report found nothing wrong because it didn’t factor in the 30% ceiling,” Abela said.

On his part, Azzopardi stood by the AG’s report, reiterating that this had determined that nothing he did had been illegal nor unethical. “The confirmation that nothing illegal happened also came from the actions of the Labour Party, because, after being elected into government, [then] infrastructure minister Joe Mizzi had proceeded with the embellishment of the tal-Fekruna area. So are you saying that the minister also participated in something which was illegal?” Azzopardi asked.

Earlier in the sitting, Azzopardi had responded to a question by government committee member Alex Muscat, on whether he had learnt anything from the whole saga, by saying that what he had had realised was “what hypocrites Joseph Muscat and the Labour Party are, when they lied about me regarding this deal, although it had been shown in the AG’s report that I did everything according to the rules.”

A back-and-forth argument ensued, with Abela and fellow government PAC member Julia Farrugia Portelli saying that Azzopardi had crossed the line when he insulted the Prime Minister.

Explaining why he had called Joseph Muscat a hypocrite, Azzopardi said that the Prime Minister had not published the NAO’s findings of no illegality in the deal, preferring to keep accusing him (Azzopardi) of wrongdoing in the transfer. He later took back the insult.