The timber factory that collapsed in December killing 20-year-old Jean Paul Sofia had evidence of structural design flaws and bad workmanship, a court expert concluded. 

Various parts of the building at Corradino were not tied together with metal as is normally the case, noted court-appointed Alex Torpiano, a professor in architecture. 

Furthermore, the court expert found that the designs provided by the architect did not include instructions about the necessary steel reinforcement. 

Expert analysis of the December 2022 collapse, included in a magisterial inquiry made public by the Office of the Prime Minister on Wednesday, indicates that the construction job was an amateur one.

A litany of failures

Witness testimony “paints a picture of construction sector dilettantism that does not reflect how serious and dangerous site work is,” the court-appointed expert noted.

There was no licensed builder onsite to supervise works, and the workers involved had no formal construction training. Some were listed with Jobsplus as 'carpenters'. 

The moment the Corradino building collapsed.

People came and went on the construction site, and it was hard to ascertain who was responsible for what.

Workers said they never saw a woman on site, meaning they never came across the project’s architect, Adriana Zammit.

Nor did the stated contractor, Milomir Jovicevic, appear to be directly involved. Instead, workers said they got their orders from Matthew Schembri, one of the project’s developers and its stated supervisor.

Schembri has no background or qualifications in construction. He also appears to have falsified the signature of the listed builder on the project's commencement notice. A calligraphy expert confirmed that the signature appeared to have been falsified by Schembri – the builder’s nephew. 

The Occupational Health and Safety Authority said it was never informed about the project and therefore had no way of keeping tabs on it. 

WhatsApp supervision

Zammit, the project's architect, appeared to rely on photos sent to her via WhatsApp to keep tabs on progress of works.

Schembri also appeared to supervise the site "remotely", relying on photos periodically sent to him by 20-year-old Sofia from September 2022 onwards. 

Sofia was employed by Schembri's company WhiteFrost Ltd., which ostensibly had no ties to the construction project other than the fact that another of Schembri's companies, AllPlus Limited, was the developer. 

The court-appointed expert said Sofia's role in relation to the project was vague, and questioned how a person not employed by any of the companies involved could have been allowed on-site so easily. 

Questions were also raised about the role the project's contractor, MilMar Construction, actually played in the project. 

The company's sole shareholder, Milomir Jovicevic, worked for Schembri's company AllPlus Limited until a few months before the Corradino project began, at which point he set up MilMar Construction Limited together with his wife. 

Milomir's brother, Marko Jovicevic, also worked with AllPlus Limited. But while Schembri told the inquiry that he had spoken to both Milomir and Marko before starting works, Marko Jovicevic does not feature on MilMar company paperwork. 

Schembri's business partner, Kurt Buhagiar, features less prominently in the magisterial inquiry. However, the report notes that Buhagiar appeared to handle issues related to project permits and official applications, due to "his contacts".

Dead by asphyxia 

Sofia was found dead and buried under the rubble of the collapse after a 16-hour search. An autopsy concluded that he died of asphyxiation, caused by bricks crushing his torso. 

Five other workers who were onsite at the time were grievously injured in the collapse.

The magisterial inquiry into the case was published after Prime Minister Robert Abela pledged that he would ask the Attorney General for it and then make it public.

Five people have been charged with Sofia's involuntary homicide and the grievous injury of five others as a result of the collapse: the project's two developers, Matthew Schembri and Kurt Buhagiar; its architect Adriana Zammit; contractor Milomir Jovicevic and his wife Dijana, in her capacity as a company director. 

One of the last photos Jean Paul Sofia took was of workers on the roof of the Corradino site.One of the last photos Jean Paul Sofia took was of workers on the roof of the Corradino site.

On July 17, Abela gave in to public demands for a public inquiry into Sofia’s death after saying that the magisterial inquiry's conclusion was taking too long. The inquiry report was eventually presented to the Attorney General on July 21.

Expert advises licensing

“It is important that the authorities impose not only a licensing system of contractors as soon as possible, for both Maltese and foreign workers, but also serious training on the current needs of the construction industry,” Torpiano wrote in his report included in the magisterial inquiry.

“It is fundamental for the health and safety of people, including workers, that on any construction site, there is full control over who enters the site, and that there is someone present all the time and who knows exactly who is working on what, as is the norm outside Malta.”

How the building collapsed

Despite a litany of health and safety and regulatory failings, the court-appointed expert linked the actual collapse to a series of structural flaws in the building and its design. 

The building did not collapse internally, which would have been caused by the fresh concrete being poured on one of the ceilings at the time of the collapse.

Instead, it seemed that the building collapsed outwards, towards the west. The fact the staircase and the lift shaft remained standing after the collapse showed how the various parts of the building were not bound together as they should have been.

Jean Paul Sofia was employed by WhiteFrost Ltd., which technically had nothing to do with the project.Jean Paul Sofia was employed by WhiteFrost Ltd., which technically had nothing to do with the project.

Various photographs taken on site soon after the collapse, as well as photographs found on mobile phones seized during the inquiry, show that double walls were not tied together with metal, as was required in good workmanship.

This had structural significance because it kept the entire building together. In terms of lateral stiffness, a double wall tied together is four times stronger than two walls built next to each other, the expert stated.

"It seems architect Adriana Zammit did not do the necessary calculations to ensure the design and specifications ensured the stability of walls and the building," the expert concluded. 

"Although the only detailed plan shows steel between the prestressed concrete slabs, there are no instructions about how this steel should be terminated on the walls, to ensure it is bound together."

Sofia's last contacts

Meanwhile, the inquiry report shows that Jean Paul Sofia received three calls on the morning of the accident: two from Matthew Schembri, and one from his mother, Isabelle.

Sofia went to the construction site twice on the day that it collapsed, first to transport some material there using a WhiteFrost Ltd. van, and a second time to take photos of construction works on the site's roof. 

Court experts found the last photographs that Sofia took: they were from the building's roof, taken just 15 minutes before the building came down like a house of cards.

Read the magisterial inquiry in full in the attached PDF, using the link in the box above.

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