Voters were shamefully manipulated to change their addresses to government apartments they were granted in Siġġiewi even though they were not yet habitable, a magistrate declared on Wednesday.

They were induced into making a false declaration by government bodies who were thus potential accomplices in the criminal wrongdoing, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech said as she ordered further investigations by the police.

The magistrate was ruling in some of the first cases instituted by the Nationalist Party against 99 people in what it had described as a case of 'gerrymandering'.

Siġġiewi is a battleground locality in the forthcoming local council elections, and the change of address would have impacted the number of eligible voters in that locality.

Mark Laurence Zammit last month visited the empty social housing block where 99 people claim to live. Video: Karl Andrew Micallef

The PN is hoping to overturn Labour's majority in the June election. PN general secretary Michael Piccinino had described what had taken place as 'political gerrymandering' when the case was instituted, arguing that the PN's request was not to strike these people off the electoral register, since the PN defended people's right to vote, but for them to vote for the council where they were registered before the switch.   

In one of four cases decided on Tuesday, Magistrate Frendo Dimech also recommended investigations against the voter concerned, who had apparently lied on oath, claiming the apartment was finished save for the furniture.

His testimony possibly exposed him to prosecution for perjury and false declaration on oath.

Voters must be registered where they live

The magistrate observed that according to the electoral law, voters must be registered at the locality where they actually live. 

When she herself held an on-site visit last week, it was clear that the Siġġiewi apartment block had no sign of habitation. 

The visit was filmed on police bodycams and that footage was presented in court.

The keys to the apartments were still deposited at the Housing Department. 

It turned out that Identità agency officials were sent on site to change the details on voters’ ID cards under the instructions of the CEO of Malita Investments, a company in which the government has a majority stake, which invests in social housing.  The CEO of Malita Investments is Jennifer Falzon, who was appointed to the role in 2021.

They met voters who were sent there to change their address. 

Moreover the Identità officials on site signed a statement that the voter was living there when it was evident that the place was not habitable, the magistrate observed. 

It was “shameful that voters were manipulated and exploited by those who were meant to safeguard their interests and well-being, to change their address to Binja Silvio Parnis,” the magistrate said. 

It was disconcerting that one of the voters was promised accommodation in October 2021 but was allocated the flat this year.

A Housing official testified that tenants who had entered into promise of allocation agreements had not yet been handed the keys. 

It is worrying that voters were deceived and led to commit criminal offences precisely by third parties in entities wherein the government has absolute control, namely Identita’ and Malita Investments, who potentially rendered themselves accomplices.- Court

The keys would be handed over once the lease agreements were signed. 

The process of changing their ID cards on site was evidently “hurried.”

In fact, relative applications for change of ID cards had missing fields, including those concerning ‘date of birth’, ‘place of birth’ and ‘gender.’

And the Identita’ official on site, signing as witness to signature, stated that the applicants lived there when “it was manifestly obvious that the block had no residents.”

“It is worrying that voters were deceived and led to commit criminal offences precisely by third parties in entities wherein the government has absolute control, namely Identita’ and Malita Investments, who potentially rendered themselves accomplices,” the court added.

Lawyers Karol Aquilina and Joseph Grech assisting Piccinino.

Labour request to intervene rejected

Earlier, the Court of Appeal dismissed efforts by the Labour Party to be able to intervene in the cases.  The PN had appealed 25 cases where magistrates had upheld Labour's request.   

Chief Justice Mark Chetcuti, together with Justices Christian Falzon Scerri and Josette Demicoli upheld the arguments put forward by PN General Secretary Michael Piccinino as applicant in the proceedings, rejecting the PL’s pleas.

The court held that the party did not qualify as one of the three categories of persons mentioned in the electoral law.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.