A senior Lands Authority official who has faced accusations of human trafficking is linked to the fatal Corradino building collapse.
Times of Malta can reveal that the government land on which the private factory was being built is leased to Lands Authority official Kurt Buhagiar and his business partner Matthew Schembri.
Buhagiar, 38, is regarded as the right-hand man of Lands Authority CEO Robert Vella.
When contacted, Buhagiar’s lawyers Franco Debono and Arthur Azzopardi said their client denies any wrongdoing and is cooperating with the ongoing investigations into the collapse, which killed one person and injured five others.
Both Buhagiar and Schembri have been summoned to testify in the magisterial inquiry into the collapse.
Buhagiar was initially hired as the Lands Authority CEO’s driver in 2021. Government records show he has since been promoted to a senior administration officer within the CEO’s office.
According to Italian prosecutors, Buhagiar and two other Maltese people were involved in smuggling migrants between Libya and Sicily.
He was arrested in Sicily in 2009, and charged there the following year, when he was allegedly caught smuggling the migrants after what reports describe as a high-speed powerboat chase with Italy’s Guardia di Finanza.
His business partner, Schembri has faced his own accusations of criminal wrongdoing in connection with two “hitmen” allegedly hired to assault his ex-wife’s father.
Schembri has also been on the receiving end of 25 government contracts, ranging from air-conditioning installation and maintenance to removal of dangerous structures and support works in government tenements
Buhagiar and Schembri set up a joint venture in 2019 on the back of an allotment of the government land by Malta Enterprise. Buhagiar used to act as a driver for Malta Enterprise chairman William Wait, during Wait’s time as chairman of the Water Services Corporation, over six years ago.
Following the green light from Malta Enterprise, the Corradino plot was assigned to Buhagiar and Schembri by Indis, another government agency tasked with operating industrial parks.
Corporate records from their joint company AllPlus Limited show the pair were planning to use the land for a furniture manufacturing venture.
Adriana Zammit, the architect who designed the collapsed building, is an Infrastructure Malta employee.
Planning records show Zammit kept up a steady private trade alongside her full-time employment with the agency.
The agency’s architects are not precluded from working on private sector projects.
Infrastructure Malta CEO Ivan Falzon has refused to say whether Zammit will be suspended pending the outcome of ongoing investigations.
Jean Paul Sofia, 20, was found dead, buried under the rubble after a 14-hour search. Five others were rescued from the site and taken to hospital. Three of them were critically injured.
CCTV footage of the collapse apparently shows the building imploding under its own weight.
Malta’s construction industry has been rocked by a string of building collapses, deaths and workplace injuries over the past few years.
In 2019, the government introduced a public registry of contractors that was meant to lead to a licensing process to raise standards in the beleaguered industry.
The registry was scrapped after the Malta Developers Association became involved in the process and started charging fees for contracts to be listed on the registry.
In 2020, the Ombudsman demanded that the Building Regulation Office stop promoting the MDA’s registry and instead compile its own list of contractors.
Planning Minister Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi said last month that contractors in the construction industry will “soon” require a licence to operate that will specify the work they are authorised to take on.