A group of Gozitan developers, who are among the largest on the two islands, have categorically denied a claim of “antagonism” made against them by Planning Authority chairman Johann Buttigieg.

The developers are from the companies DTX, J. Portelli Projects and Agius Properties.

The case goes back to earlier this year, when Mr Buttigieg declared he was not taking part in the PA vote over a controversial application to build a new hotel in Mellieħa. He cited a conflict of interest “in view of allegations made towards him by the applicant”.

Asked by Times of Malta to clarify his assertion, Mr Buttigieg said “there was antagonism against me personally from one of the developers involved in the project”. His move, he said, was intended to make sure none of the developers could accuse him of trying to put spokes in the wheels of their application.

He declined to elaborate.

However, a PA source revealed that during a closed meeting of the planning board on the application, Mr Buttigieg had told the board of an allegation made by one of the developers: that he was working against them because his wife was a silent business partner in a competing Mellieħa hotel.

There was antagonism against me personally from one of the developers involved in the project

Mr Buttigieg, the source said, informed the board he had no private interests in any hotel.

His wife has in the past been a business partner of the owner of La Salita and the Maritim Antonine Hotel & Spa in Mellieħa, Adrian Buttigieg, who is also a close friend of the PA chairman.

Asked by to confirm his disclosure to the other board members and to state whether he or his wife were in business with the hotel owner, Mr Buttigieg replied: “Neither myself, nor my wife have business interests with Adrian Buttigieg.”

On their part, when contacted the developers involved in the new Mellieħa project denied having been antagonistic towards the PA chairman. 

“I really don’t know where he got this from,” Daniel Refalo of DTX projects, the applicant of the Mellieħa development, told The Sunday Times of Malta.

Mr Refalo said he could not vouch for his partners in the project, Joseph Portelli of J Portelli Projects and Mark Agius of Agius Properties, but promised to check and come back. Contacted by this newspaper a few days later, Mr Refalo said both had denied the claim.

“We have absolutely no antagonism against the PA chair or made any such allegations regarding his alleged private business interests,” Mr Refalo insisted.

Research conducted by the newspaper shows that neither Mr Buttigieg nor his wife appear to have any existing business connections with the owner of the Maritim Antonine or with any other businessmen.

His wife Lorraine used to be a business partner with Mr Buttigieg in a private company called MMB Ltd, set up in 2004 and involved in property development. Last year the company gave notice of dissolution.

The PA’s boss’s wife is listed as board secretary of two other property development companies, Zebbiegħ Developments Ltd and Ta’ Pinu Developments Ltd.

In a bid to find out if Mr Buttigieg included his wife’s interests in his declaration of assets, this newspaper asked him for a copy but the request was declined.

Timeline

July, 2011: Marine Aquatics (National Aquarium, St Paul’s Bay), owned by Adrian Buttigieg (Maritim Antonine Hotels) and Salvu Ellul (Elbros) applied to build the EU-funded aquarium and Café del Mar lido. Johann Buttigieg – then a case officer – was responsible for the application while his wife, Lorraine, was a business partner of Adrian Buttigieg

April, 2013: Johann Buttigieg is given a super promotion: from case officer he is appointed Mepa CEO by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat

August, 2016: The Times of Malta reveals that Johann Buttigieg had his 2014 stay at London’s Royal Garden Hotel reserved by a company owned by hotelier Adrian Buttigieg. He claims he paid for the stay but fails to show invoices and says he was a travelling partner of the businessman “long before his appointment to public office”.

September, 2016: Architect Michelle Piccinino, who was Johann Buttigieg’s direct superior at the PA in 2011, declared she had not been informed of any conflict of interest when Mr Buttigieg was case officer of the aquarium project.

September, 2016: Mr Buttigieg tells this newspaper that Adrian Buttigieg is a very close friend and the godfather of one of his children.

ivan.camilleri@timesofmalta.com

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