An analysis of hundreds of pages of notarial deeds reveals that Carravan Company Limited appears to have been serving as a vehicle in the transfer of land and raking in millions for its shareholders while incurring relatively small outlays.
The company was set up in 2017 less than six months after Archbishop Charles Scicluna renounced his power of veto over land transfers of land put in a medieval foundation, or benefice, called Beneficcju Ta Sant Antonio Delli Navarra. A week earlier the archbishop appointed the lawyer Patrick Valentino as rector of the foundation.
Lovin Malta reported extensively on Valentino’s appointment and the contracts signed by the archbishop’s legal representative.
It also reported that Valentino then transferred developable lands via perpetual emphyteusis to Carravan, which belongs to a company of the Montebellos’, including his partner and active magistrate Rachel, the lawyer Carmelo Galea and six Stagno Navarra siblings who claim to be patrons of the foundation through descent.
The publicly available notarial deeds pertain to Ta Ghar Boffa, where more than 100 flats have already been built in sprawling blocks ranging in height from four to seven floors. These buildings have already changed Qala’s townscape and character with their height and bulk – and 64 more have yet to be built. The project is one of Gozo’s largest-ever residential developments.
Trucks driving to and from the large building site – which features a gaping hole where the last 64 flats are set to be built – rumble through Qala’s narrow streets and town square. No Environment Impact Assessment was held prior to issuing permits despite the fact that the total gross floor built-up area exceeds the 30,000 square metres that usually triggers EIA screening.
The Qala Local Council and two NGOs (Moviment Graffitti and Din L-Art Helwa) are contesting the last development permit for 64 flats. But the Environment and Planning Tribunal, which is hearing the appeal, rejected a request from the appellants to suspend work until the appeal is decided.
Carravan got the land, which amounts to almost three football pitches in size, on perpetual emphyteusis for €43,000 annually redeemable after 20 years, in 2039. But the notarial deeds now reveal that Carravan has been passing this ground rent on to buyers of properties.
In the case of flats (whose number is unknown) sold to buyers off-plan in the past two years, it was either the buyer or the developer who paid the ground rent in bulk or in advance until 2039 and then commit to redeeming the emphyteusis into full ownership in 2039 by paying for another cycle of twenty years.
The developer is Excel Investments Limited, owned by Joseph Portelli (majority shareholder), Daniel Refalo and the Agius brothers (Ta Dirjanu).
After selling a number of flats directly to buyers – in these contracts Excel assigned its rights arising from a preliminary agreement with Carravan – Carravan then sold other parts directly to Excel in a series of ten contracts all signed on the same day, on 1 May of this year. It is not known whether Excel has now bought all the remaining fragments or bits of properties.
Last May’s contracts follow the same modus operandi or pattern in having the buyer – this time Excel – paying the emphyteutic ground rent in advance until 2039, and then committing to redeem the emphyteusis by paying another 20-year cycle to the medieval foundation in 2039.
The patrons of the foundation are the six Stagno Navarra siblings, who own between them 60% of the shares of Carravan (Galea, the lawyer, and the Montebellos’ own 20% each). One of them, James Stagno Navarra, is the managing director of Carravan.
Nine of last May’s ten contracts are identical, each consisting of sales of individual underground garages and a number of flats. Carravan made €1.5 million from last May’s sales alone.
Lovin Malta asked the directors of Carravan why they opted to put the sales in 10 contracts, nine of which are identical, instead of putting everything in one or two, and whether they have now sold all of the land or still retain parts of it. They were also asked if they are making €7 million from the sale of the land at Ta’ Ghar Boffa in total – the €7 million figure is the sum that Joseph Portelli had mentioned in a public meeting.
Answering on behalf of all directors, Carmelo Galea said the questions were on a “purely private transaction which has no element of public interest in it in that there are absolutely no state funds, state intervention involved. Consequently, you have no right whatsoever to meddle in these private affairs and for this reason, we shall refrain from providing you with any answers.”
A further question also asked whether the way the land is being transferred or sold at Ta Ghar Boffa is legal. The same question was also sent to Patrick Valentino and Magistrate Rachel Montebello. The magistrate was additionally asked whether people should be concerned that a member of the judiciary is making money as a shareholder from all of this.
Valentino responded in a similar fashion to Galea, saying that “apart from being bound by professional secrecy I would appreciate if you could let me know what the underlying cause of what you deem to be an investigation.”
He added: “This is an absolutely private land transaction like many others that happen on a daily basis. There’s no public interest, state funds or intervention involved.”
Magistrate Montebello responded, “that members of the judiciary are precluded from speaking to the media.”
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