The Malta Independent 4 August 2020, Tuesday

Family incensed as PS buys land from mentally-ill father; Ian Borg denies wrongdoing

Rachel Attard Sunday, 19 July 2015, 09:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

A Dingli family is considering taking legal action in a bid to reverse the sale of a property to Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg after they learned that their mentally ill and vulnerable father had been duped into selling the Cabinet member a piece of land for a suspiciously low price and under dubious circumstances.

The land in question is in Rabat's picturesque Santa Katerina valley, directly adjacent to another property Dr Borg also purchased afterward. Dr Borg is facing accusations of abuse of power for private gain after the Malta Environment and Planning Authority expeditiously granted a development permit in a rural area for a residential project stretching across both acquired properties, as reported previously by this newspaper.

In January 2014, Dr Borg purchased this property from 66-year-old Anthony Scicluna, who suffers from a serious mental disorder and has been described by his consultant psychiatrist as being vulnerable and unable to take decisions.

The 655 square metre property, roughly the size of a football pitch's penalty area and which Mr Scicluna's family says has been owned and tilled by them for generations, was sold for the measly sum of €10,000 and without his family's knowledge. Moreover, included in the bargain basement price was a 16 square metre water tank in an adjacent field and a nearby 16 square metre windmill.

Mr Scicluna and his family had lived for some years in Santa Katerina but later moved to Dingli, where he still lives and where Dr Borg had served as mayor for eight years.  The Scicluna family has also known Dr Borg for a number of years, according to family members speaking with this newspaper, and they insist Dr Borg was fully aware of Mr Scicluna's mental condition toward the end of 2013 when middlemen, one of whom is Mr Scicluna's own nephew, first began approaching him on Dr Borg's behalf to purchase the land.

While several attempts at the time to convince Mr Scicluna to part with the land, which he had inherited from his father, had proved unsuccessful as Mr Scicluna had consistently refused their approaches, a deal was finally struck on 13 January 2014.

Deal or no deal weekend drinking binge

Family members speaking with this newspaper claim that it so happened that on 10 January 2014, a Friday, Mr Scicluna left his family home and did not return until the early hours of Monday morning. Mr Scicluna reportedly spent that weekend in the company of Franco Sammut and Mark Farrugia, the two middlemen they say, and according to the sale contact, were acting on Dr Borg's behalf - taking him from bar to bar in Dingli and Rabat and plying him with alcohol, which Mr Scicluna cannot drink because of his medication, in an all-out bid to convince him to sell the land.

At one point that weekend, when family members desperately seeking his whereabouts finally located him, they say he became aggressive towards them. He then made a brief appearance at the family's Sunday lunch, informed them that he had sold the cherished family land to the Parliamentary Secretary and abruptly left the house.

In the early hours of the morning of 13 January, a Monday, Mr Scicluna returned home, took a shower and changed his clothes. He was picked up by the two middlemen at 7am and was escorted to Notary Anton Borg for an early morning meeting.

The resulting property sales contract, which has been seen by this newsroom, was signed by Mr Scicluna, Dr Borg and the two middlemen - Mark Farrugia and Franco Sammut. The contract states that Mr Scicluna had sold, conceded and transferred the title land and the other two smaller parcels of land for the price of €10,000. In addition to that, Dr Borg also paid €1,700 in taxes and stamp duty as well as an additional €200 to Mr Farrugia and Mr Sammut for their sensarija fees, which are normally one per cent of the sale price, and which applies to this case.

This newsroom also has copies of the cheques that Dr Borg issued to Notary Borg and Anthony Scicluna respectively. The family told this newsroom that a promise of sale  agreement was never signed and even though it is not illegal it is very rare when you sell a property. After they left the notary's office, Mr Farrugia, who is his nephew, took Mr Scicluna straight to the bank and deposited the cheque in a new account. This newsroom has a copy of the bank statement.

 

PS threatened family with slander lawsuit when they complained

Mr Scicluna's children eventually learned that their father had done the unthinkable and had gone ahead with the sale of the land, which is of high sentimental value and which the family insists they would not let go of for even 10 times the price at which Dr Borg had purchased it, if at all.

Family members desperately tried to contact Dr Borg by telephone to explain to him that he should have spoken to them and not their father, who they insist is in no fit state of mind to take decisions given his long-standing condition.

After several attempts to reach him, one of Mr Scicluna's sons finally got hold of Dr Borg and told him: "Do you think you did the right thing to buy the land from my mentally ill father, land which we never wanted to sell?"

We are informed that Dr Borg said, "Be careful what you are insinuating because I will sue you for slander. Your father is not mentally ill because we got him a doctor to assess him before we signed the contract."  

But to this day the children have no idea who this doctor is and in the contract of sale there is no medical certificate attached or any mention of what the doctor said.

Seller diagnosed as a vulnerable person since 2009

The land in question, along with the other two smaller parcels, had originally been donated to Mr Scicluna by his father on 18 October 2009. That contract, which has also been seen by this newspaper, stipulates that Mr Scicluna's mother, who is still alive and is 95-years-old, reserves the right to work and use the land exclusively for the rest of her life.

In the contract of sale, Dr Borg accepted the clause, seemingly because he had no other choice. But despite that, work on the site has already begun - mature fruit trees have been cut down and the water tank has been sealed.

In this same year in which the land had been donated to him, in 2009, Mr Scicluna's mental health deteriorated severely. Although he had been suffering from mental health problems for the previous 17 years, matters took a distinct turn for the worse and he spent six months at Mount Carmel Hospital undergoing treatment.

According to the Scicluna family, a medical certificate written by a consultant psychiatrist describes Mr Scicluna as a patient who suffers from a severe and serious mental condition and that he has poor judgment and fails to take the right decisions. They emphasised that medical certificates say that their father remains very vulnerable due to his condition.

Up to this day Mr Scicluna still receives antipsychotic medication on a regular basis and every so often his doctors tell him to spend some time at Mount Carmel.

In May 2015 the Scicluna family filed a court application and the court appointed two independent psychiatrists to assess Mr Scicluna's condition. But in the meantime, time is pressing as the two-year period allowed by law to rescind a contract expires in January 2016.

Ian Borg Replies

Can you confirm that on 13 January 2014 you bought the land that is next to your other property in Santa Katerina?

I confirm and it is not the only property that I bought from Anthony Scicluna. I made a promise of sale agreement with Mr Scicluna and his 14 brothers and sisters plus his mother in August 2013. Then in March 2014, when that contract was concluded, I entered into this contract to buy his field in January 2014. Mr Scicluna’s field is not exactly next to the other property that I bought from the same family. There is a passageway between the two which isn’t co-owned just by Mr Scicluna’s family, as there are other owners. I haven’t bought it and I do not intend buying it.

Can you confirm that apart from the field you also bought a common water tank and a windmill?

I don’t believe so. What I know for sure is that there is a private cess pit (fossa ta dranagg).

Do you confirm that you paid Mr Scicluna the sum of €10,000 for the land?

I bought the land for €10,000, plus another €1,700 in expenses and taxes that Mr Scicluna was meant to have paid. But when we were at the notary he refused to pay them because he wanted €10,000 net in his hands from the sale, so I decided to pay the additional €1,700 myself.

Do you think it was a fair deal?

Mr Scicluna obtained that property five years ago from his parents for the sum of €1,000. The land was evaluated by family architects and eventually by the government architect in 2009.

If the family decided to put down that amount simply to evade tax… I will leave that up to your readers. Apart from that, I bought other pieces of land which are 30 metres away and I got them for practically the same price. I was not the one who negotiated the price with Ninu, I had a middleman who was doing that. Before I made an offer, I checked the going price for a tumolo of land. This particular field is not as big as one tumolo, it is just half a tumolo.

Who were the middlemen?

There were two middlemen: Ninu had Frank Sammut and eventually the deal was sealed by my middleman Mark Farrugia, who is Ninu’s nephew and who had told Ninu several times that I was interested in buying it. Also, once I was told that I could buy the other family properties.

One day, I remember it was a Sunday afternoon (12 December 2014), Ninu went to his sister, who is also Mr Farrugia’s mother, and told them that he wanted to sell the land to me.

Prior to the contract I had not seen Ninu for months and there was a time that I had given up, but the middlemen told me that at some point he would sell because the field was not important to him. He had never worked the land and it was always neglected.

Who was the notary that drew up the contract between you and Ninu?

Notary Anton Borg.

Who was at the notary’s office when you signed the contract?

Mr Scicluna and the two middlemen. You should also be informed that on the day we signed the contract I was told by Mr Scicluna himself, and confirmed it with Mark Farrugia later, that Ninu had decided to protect that money I gave him. He went to the bank with Mark to deposit the funds and to lock them for a number of years. Ninu was always saying that his children and his wife would take the money from him.

For Ninu to sell the land to you did you just approach him, or did you at any point approach his wife and children?

Since the property belonged to Ninu Scicluna, I was under no obligation to speak to anyone from his family. After all, it’s his property. When Ninu, together with his brothers and sisters, decided to sell me the other properties I didn’t feel I should speak to his children. If I want to buy something from you I don’t ask your daughter.

I repeat, I live like you in Malta and I am hurt by rumours that crop up in the village square. All I can say is that I have helped the family numerous times.

Before you signed the contract with Mr Scicluna, were you aware that he has a serious mental problem?

No and to this very day I personally say that he is being abused, and if there is the need for an eventual libel suit to be filed against you, I can give information about why I am not convinced by some medical professionals and what they might be saying.

Why are you saying some medical professionals?

At this stage you do not need to understand, but if one day I feel the need to, I can back up my analysis with facts because, in my view and as a normal citizen, some of them do not do their job professionally enough. Last Friday, Mr Scicluna spent 20 minutes talking to me in front of his daughter and I do not agree with you on the claims you are making about him. You should also be aware that I was informed by Mr Scicluna that his children have opened court proceedings about the claim that you just made and which medical professionals are making. When he received the letter from the court, he went straight to his lawyer to contest this claim.

The decision he took to sell the property was free and unhindered. It is the public notary’s job by law to check that the two persons in front of him are mentally and legally capable. I did this in bona fede.

If you were to ask me to describe Ninu’s character I would say that he has a big heart like the rest of his brothers and sisters and he likes to make people laugh; he is funny. He has had a lot of family problems that are still ongoing.

When you went to the notary, did Ninu mention that he has mental problems? Was there a doctor at the office?

No. No. No. Not for this contract, nor for the others.

I am informed that during that weekend when you said Ninu told Mark that he wanted to sell the land to you, he was drunk most of the time? Were you there?

No, I was not aware of this. All I can say is that on Monday when he was sitting next to me at the notary’s office he wasn’t under the influence of alcohol.

As a Parliamentary Secretary and a lawyer, do you accept the fact that you took advantage of a person with serious mental problems for your personal gain

This is a strong statement. I categorically deny what you are saying and will be ready to challenge whoever is saying this in a court of law because I also need to see how this will affect my reputation.

Early this morning, soon after the story was published in print on The Malta Independent on Sunday, Dr Borg issued the following statement via the Department of Information:

With reference to a story published on The Malta Independent, Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg categorically denies allegations that he may have, in someway, bought property from someone that may not have been in the right state of mental health.  Because of this, he will definitely initiate legal proceedings against those making such serious allegations.

This was purely a private matter and internal conflicts amongst family members should not be used in any way to tarnish the reputation of someone who is a total stranger to such disagreements and to the family itself, merely on the basis of being a public figure.

The property in question is a field measuring almost half a tumolo which is detached from other properties owned by Dr. Borg.  In this particular case, the seller had acquired the said property back in 2009 whereby it was valued at €1,000.  He then sold that to Dr. Borg in 2014 for €11,700.

Apart from that, the same person – together with his siblings and his mother - had sold another property to Dr. Borg – and hence he had entered into two other separate contracts before as well as following this particular transaction, together with other 17 members of his family.

Mark Farrugia and Franco Sammut deny allegations

Mark Farrugia later denied that he took Mr Scicluna out drinking in a bid to get him to sign a contract.

“I categorically condemn and deny the insinuation that I took out Mr. Anthony Scicluna, who happens to be my uncle, on a weekend drinking binge in a bid to get him to sign a contract for the sale of his property in Rabat to Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg, as has been alleged. Moreover, I confirm that Mr. Scicluna appeared on the said contract voluntarily and was not picked up by me or made to appear and sign the same, as has also been alleged”.

He reserved the right for further comment with regards to the rest of the allegations.

Franco Sammut also denied that he was in some sort of collusion with the other booker.

He said that the allegation that Mr Sammut was involved in some sort of collusion together with the other broker in order to convince Mr Scicluna to sell the property against his own will is totally unfounded. He explained that although he was initially involved as broker, eventually he moved out of the picture and the deal was finalised and sealed by the other broker. In addition, he said he isn't in any manner close to the other broker.

As for the various allegations contained in the said article, he rebuts the same as totally unfounded both in fact and at law, and this for the following reasons.

He said he had not been in contact with Mr. Scicluna for over three weeks before the signing of the public deed, “let alone having spent the weekend preceding the publishing of the contract 'taking him from bar to bar in Dingli and Rabat and plying him with alcohol .... in an all-out bid to convince him to sell the land'".

Mr Sammut is also of the opinion that the price at which the land in question was sold, wasn't only an equitable price, but it was also above the going market price for such a portion of land in the said area at the time of the sale. 

Scicluna family statement

In a statement to this newsroom, the Scicluna family said that their statements were the truth, adding that they are ready and willing to provide all the evidence and documents in Court.

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