Attempts to evict people from their homes as part of a Gozo land grab will set a dangerous precedent across the entire Maltese Islands, by allowing wealthy landowners to point to dubious deals to force people out onto the street, Qala’s mayor Paul Buttigieg has warned.
Buttigieg was speaking among a group of residents and activists who protested outside the courts in Gozo following the testimony of Archbishop Charles Scicluna in a court case over the issue.
The court case involves a family facing eviction from their home build on land held by their ancestors for 130 years, which has been featured extensively in Lovin Malta.
“This is unacceptable,” Buttigieg said. “If they have millions, why are they asking residents to pay 20 times more than what they were asking them in 2013?”
Buttigieg called on the authorities to immediately address the issue, questioning how this was allowed to happen with little to no consequence.
Ancestors leased the land in 1891 from the Beneficcju ta Sant Antonio Delli Navarra, a medieval foundation, or benefice, that was set up to raise money for pious deeds. The residents then converted the lease into outright ownership in the 1990s on the back of various laws.
Foundation rector Patrick Valentino is now seeking to evict the family on the basis that converting their lease to ownership was done outside the bounds of those laws, and in a “deceptive” and “fraudulent” manner.
The archbishop is embroiled in the case because he had decisive power over the granting of land placed under the foundation. In 2017 Scicluna appointed Valentino as rector and then ceded his power of veto over land transfers.
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The company behind the deal, Dei Conti, belongs to six Stagno Navarra siblings who claim to be descended from foundation foundress Cosmana Navarra.
The archbishop accepted their claim despite the fact that they produced no independently-verified evidence of their descent, and then went on to sign a contract with them and Valentino in which the archbishop “renounced the right” – vested in the archbishop by the foundress – to give his consent over land transfers.
The land transferred to Dei Conti is about the size of a football pitch; the Cauchi house sits on a small part of it.
Dei Conti has since been selling or doing preliminary agreements, on parts of it for development. This includes a parcel on which an application for a block of ten flats is currently being processed by the Planning Authority, as well as another plot on which the daughter of the lawyer Carmelo Galea got a permit to build a house.
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