The Malta Independent 24 August 2019, Saturday

Owners of ODZ-approved fuel station donated €20,000 to Labour Party in 2016

Julian Bonnici Sunday, 24 December 2017, 10:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

The applicants behind a Planning Authority-approved 1,500 square metre fuel station on Outside Development Zone (ODZ) land in Marsascala, and potentially a 9,750 square metre shopping complex, also on ODZ land, donated €20,000 to the Labour Party in 2016, according to official documents published by the Electoral Commission.

Seaview and Sons Ltd operate the Pit Stop fuel station in Attard and, more recently, stations in Mosta and Floriana, along with a separate construction company, also called 'Seaview'.

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The owners of the company are Ephraim Schembri, Claudine Barbara, Franridge Schembri, Saviour Schembri and Josepha Guntrip. Josepha's husband, Patrick, is the applicant behind the fuel station (PA/04411/09) which will occupy agricultural land on Triq Sant' Antnin, opposite the Family Park.

While it is to be noted that the new Fuel Service Station Policy allows for new stations or the relocation of stations from urban areas to ODZ land, this is as long as the site is designated non-agricultural and gives preference to locations designated Industrial Areas, SME sites, areas of Containment or Open Storage Areas.

The Planning Authority board once again steamrolled over the recommendations and votes of Environmental & Resources Authority chairman Victor Axiak and NGO representative Annick Bonello when approving the development that had had a positive recommendation from the Planning Directorate.

It has been reported that €50,000 will be given as a Planning Gain to compensate for the environmental damage caused.

Meanwhile, on 8 June Ephraim Schembri submitted an application for a commercial development that includes retail outlets, offices, restaurants and a drive-through take-away, which is proposed for a 9,750 square metre site also on nearby ODZ land.

It would come as no surprise if the approved fuel station application is used as justification for approval for the commercial development.

It is as yet unknown how much Seaview and Sons, or any of their related companies, donated to the Labour Party in 2017, or in previous years (given that the party financing legislation had not come into force.)

A Labour Party spokesperson told The Malta Independent on Sunday that the party provides all the information to the relevant authority according to legislation, after being sent questions asking for a list of donors, both commercial and individual, who had given in excess of €500.

"When this information is submitted and published, as according to the same law, your questions will be answered," the spokesperson informed this newspaper.

The previous year's figures were published in March this year.

The spokesman also said that it was only the PL that had published its audited accounts consistently, and praised the contributions of the tireless work of activists who raise funds for the party.

"Nobody came with a €140,000 envelope like what happened with the Nationalist Party. It appears that the PN have found a new way to circumvent party financing legislation, as there were previous structures."

Developers donate €80,000 to PL in 2016

Large donations from businessmen and industry leaders to both major political parties remains an accepted reality in Malta and runs the high risk of influencing the decision-making or public tender processes.

Given that both sides of the political divide seemingly indulge in the practice, regardless of whether or not they are in government, it is puzzling as to why donations from commercial entities to political parties remain legal, in spite of the opportunity to ban this form of legalised bribes when debating the legislation a few years ago.

The PL has received donations totalling €80,000 from companies involved in the construction industry such as Attard and Bros, the €20,000 donor (€10,000 of which is through its subsidiary Eurocraft) which was granted approval for the development of 17,600 square metres of agricultural land in Marsaxlokk, on the same day that the PA rejected a similar 38,600 square metre development in Mosta.

It should be noted that both sites were included in the extension of building boundaries carried out by the PN government in 2006.

Charles 'Il-Franciz' Camilleri, who is behind the proposed 28-storey tower project at 38,000 square metre Jerma Palace Hotel, has donated €10,000, while GAP Holdings, which is planning to build a 40-storey tower hotel on the former Holiday Inn Hotel site and is involved in the construction of 152 apartments over part of Ta' Masrija in Mellieħa, also donated €10,000.

Camilleri's relative, Anton, who also goes by the name 'Il-Francis', is also one of the key figures involved in the proposed Villa Rosa project. This featured prominently in the highly-controversial Paceville masterplan, which critics argued appeared to be geared towards the developers' considerations rather than the needs of the residents in the surrounding area.

Other donors include Halmann Holdings Ltd (€10,000) and BV Formosa Co. Ltd, of the Bella Vista Hotel in Qawra (€10,000).

The Nationalist Party: No commercial donors or more suspicious invoices?

A similar exercise was also carried out with respect to the Nationalist Party, but documents indicate that the party received no donations from commercial entities. This is, however, a cause for concern, especially considering the DB Group scandal and the party's traditional ties to big business.

The PN currently finds itself in court accused of breaching the Party Financing Law after Silvio Debono of the db Group claimed that he gave donations to the PN that far exceeded the €25,000 limit allowed by law.

The PN says that the €70,000 quoted by db Group as donations was, in fact, transactions of a commercial nature between the influential businessman and the PN's media entity Media.Link. Both failed to divulge details of the commercial transactions, with Joseph Muscat alleging that the PN had issued fraudulent invoices.

Eyebrows were also raised after PN Deputy Leader Robert Arrigo and Secretary-General Clyde Puli presented €141,806 and €56,000 respectively at this year's fund-raising marathon, approximately one-third of the total amount raised, which begs the question as to whether the PN has used other, as yet unknown, methods to further circumvent legislation.

In comments given to this newsroom last weekend, both Arrigo and Puli insisted that the money was raised through fund-raising events held over the previous six months, but also declined to provide a list of the donors.

Party Financing Law: what needs to be declared?

The Party Financing Law, proposed and enacted by the current government, stipulates that no party is allowed to receive donations by the same person/entity exceeding €25,000 in any given financial year.

The law also obliges political parties to publish, through the Electoral Commission, the names of - and total amount donated by - individuals whose donations have exceeded €7,000 and donations received from corporate entities.

The party is required to keep a list of individuals who have donated between €50 and €700, but is under no obligation to publish this. It is not obliged to keep a record of those who donate less than €50.


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