Robert Abela’s law firm Abela Advocates has spent the last four years operating out of a prime Valletta location, despite having no legal title to the office in question.
Times of Malta has confirmed that Abela’s government lease for the Strait Street office, which is a stone’s throw away from the law courts, expired at the end of 2017.
The prime minister personally took over the lease from his former legal partner Ian Stafrace in 2013, documents show.
The office forms part of a block adjacent to the Palazzo Preca restaurant, around 30 metres away from the law courts.
Instead of vacating the office upon the lease expiring four years ago, Abela, by then an MP, petitioned the Lands Authority to further extend the lease.
In such cases, a government property can only be put up for a new lease if a public tender is issued.
Abela’s wife Lydia even started the process in 2020 to register a new company called Nibral, based at the same office.
The property was given out by the government on a 150-year emphyteusis to the original tenants back in 1867.
The authority is not in a position to provide a precise figure on account of the fact that a collation exercise to this effect... is still ongoing
Contacted by Times of Malta, a spokesperson for the Lands Authority defended the decision not to evict Abela from the property. The spokesperson said the authority had always taken the “reasoned and legitimate approach” to process requests for extension of titles, rather than resorting to the eviction of “thousands of tenants” with expired government leases.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said a request for an extension in the title over the said property submitted to the Lands Authority “awaits processing”, as is the case other with similar requests.
A sign advertising Abela Advocates’ presence within the Strait Street block has been removed outside of the building.
Times of Malta, however, confirmed this week that the law firm continues to operate from the same building.
The Lands Authority spokesperson said there are “thousands of pending requests” for extensions in property titles.
“The authority is not in a position to provide a precise figure on account of the fact that a collation exercise to this effect, which commenced last year following the appointment of the new CEO, is still ongoing,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said the collation exercise is intended to provide further visibility to the authority, so that is can address these cases through the issue of an “effective and indiscriminate scheme”, which would also include a structured mechanism for the collection of payments in arrears.
“This scheme would complement the authority’s efforts to provide effective, practical and legitimate solutions to resolve these cases rather than resorting to disproportionate actions,” the spokesperson said.
Abela Advocates has received upwards of a million euros in government contracts.