Former Infrastructure Malta boss Fredrick Azzopardi is set to be charged in court with breaking environment protection laws during his time in charge of the roadworks agency.
Azzopardi is expected to be charged in court on Tuesday before magistrate Elaine Mercieca following an investigation by the police’s Environment Protection Unit.
The case dates to 2019 when Infrastructure Malta workers defied a stop and compliance order issued by the Environment and Resources Authority over illegal works at Wied Qirda in Żebbuġ.
Plants and protected trees were uprooted and habitats in the sensitive ecological area destroyed because of the roads agency’s decision to reinforce a road leading to a private residence in the rural area.
In January 2020, activists and campaigners sent the police a legal letter, seeking an investigation into Azzopardi for his role in allowing the works to proceed.
Despite ERA officials having affixed legally binding halt orders to machinery on site, the roadworks agency’s workers had simply removed them and continued working in the valley.
ERA officials had gone on site and ordered them to respect the enforcement notice, but workers ignored the requests, and the police were called in.
ERA had found that the works were in breach of several provisions of the Environmental Protection Act since work was happening in a site of ecological importance.
The prospect of having motorists or passers-by getting injured or dying was no option for IM
Moreover, it said the works were being carried out without ERA’s authorisation.
At the time Azzopardi served as IM’s chief executive officer.
Contacted, Azzopardi confirmed he had received a summons and would be appearing in court.
He expressed his confidence that he would be cleared of any wrongdoing.
He said the agency had carried out the works urgently as the road was unsafe.
“Infrastructure Malta as public agency has a duty to eliminate a danger to public safety in a public road brought to the agency’s attention by the police and certified by government architects,” he said.
“The prospect of having motorists or passers-by getting injured or dying was no option for IM.”
Azzopardi said an administrative fine had already been settled back when the matter was first flagged.
Sources within ERA, who got wind of the criminal prosecution of Azzopardi, gave conflicting opinions.
While all agreed that the court action was a “bold” step by the authorities, there was a difference of opinion over how successful the action would be.
One source said that, given that an administrative fine had already been paid, the case would normally be considered closed.
Others, however, commended the police for taking the matter further.
In April, Azzopardi resigned as head of the roads agency after four years at the helm, taking up a position in the private sector.
Azzopardi was a key driving force behind minister Ian Borg and his move coincided with the minister being shifted from the infrastructure to the foreign affairs portfolio.
Azzopardi, who was instrumental in setting up the roads agency in 2018, has frequently been accused of running roughshod over environmental concerns raised by NGOs and residents.
However, he has repeatedly defended his record at the agency, saying that after years of neglect, the island’s roads network was getting the level of investment required.
Just last month, former electoral candidate Arnold Cassola asked a board tasked with overseeing police standards to investigate why the corps had ignored a request to investigate and prosecute Azzopardi for environmental crimes.
Cassola had asked the Police Professional Standards Board to investigate police inaction in the case.
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