A court told Mark Gaffarena his rights were not breached when he claimed he could not enjoy his Burmarrad property as it was leased to a family of farmers, slamming the businessman's "cowboy-like attitude" and referring to him as a "speculator".
The court declared on Monday that Gaffarena could not claim that his fundamental rights were breached by current laws regulating protected leases since he knew that the Burmarrad property he purchased was leased and precisely because of that had only paid 6% of its real value.
There was nothing wrong with “fair speculation” but the court deplored the “cowboy-like attitude" towards the tenant who testified that, ever since Gaffarena took over the property as landlord, he was threatened with eviction, said Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey.
In a strongly-worded judgment delivered on Monday, the court threw out Gaffarena's bid to seek compensation for the alleged breach of his fundamental right to property and protection against discrimination in terms of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The case revolved around property consisting of a farmhouse and some 15,000 square metres of land at Burmarrad in an area known as Ta’ Lippin which Gaffarena bought in 2003 through a contract published by Notary Carmelo Mangion.
That deed of sale explicitly stated that the property was subject to a lease and in fact, that condition was reflected in the price.
Gaffarena bought the property for Lm30,000, equivalent to €69,881 at the time when the real market value of the property was just over €1 million.
When fielding questions by the court in the constitutional proceedings, Gaffarena admitted he had clinched the deal at a far low price.
He subsequently instituted a case before the First Hall, Civil Court claiming that, given the current legal framework on protected leases, he had no real hope of regaining full ownership of the property and could not make any real gains on the lease.
He claimed that the property was now valued at €3.5 million.
Moreover, he argued that the farmhouse was in a neglected state and that the couple who rented the property, together with the adjacent land, no longer lived there.
Gaffarena claimed to have kept a lookout over several days and never saw anyone enter the farmhouse. Nor were there any lights on at night.
The tenant had inherited other property and therefore could move elsewhere, argued the landlord, pointing out that, according to the electoral register, the couple’s registered address was not at the farmhouse.
He was being paid a miserable €191.56 annual rent for the farmhouse and a further €111.81 annual rent for the agricultural land. That was far less than the market value, complained Gaffarena.
The tenant - Joseph Briffa - testified that he had lived at the farmhouse all his life and had raised his own family there.
He came from a generation of farmers and was a full-time farmer himself, selling his produce at the market.
He never had any trouble with the previous landlord but all that changed when Gaffarena acquired the property.
Founder of Għaqda Bdiewa Attivi Malcolm Borg also testified, highlighting the importance of agriculture and warning that the food supply chain was currently under threat.
He knew the Briffa couple who were full-time farmers living at the Burmarrad farmhouse.
When all was considered, the court upheld one of the pleas raised by the State Advocate, namely that Gaffarena was well aware of the rent on the property he acquired.
He was not the original owner nor one of the heirs but had bought the farmhouse and lands at a considerably lower price.
A simple calculation showed that he gained far more than he could have received in rent on the open market. The savings on the purchase price were twice the amount Gaffarena could have received in rent, observed the judge.
And the court would not permit Gaffarena to seek further compensation from the State.
If the court were to allow that, it would not only be permitting an injustice but also an “insult against society which pays taxes for the better administration of the common good.”
“This court will certainly not permit such abuse,” concluded the judge, throwing out Gaffarena’s claims, observing that as a speculator he did not “instantaneously” qualify as a victim whose fundamental rights were allegedly breached.