The Malta Independent 26 September 2021, Sunday

Police have no legal right to stop former La Paloma Hotel residents gathering on roof

Rebekah Cilia Monday, 27 April 2020, 09:17 Last update: about 2 years ago

A recent Facebook post complaining that residents were not observing social distancing rules at the former La Paloma Hotel drew several comments that the authorities need to stop them, however, The Malta Independent is informed that the police have no legal right to do so.

On 26 August 2019, the police evicted around 100 people from the rundown former La Paloma Hotel, in a raid in St Paul’s Bay, with the Environment Health Directorate declaring the former hotel as a “public health emergency.” The Court, however, had ordered the former hotel to remain open but warned that remedial works should be carried out to make sure that the public health was not being manifestly put at risk.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Health Authorities have issued a legal notice limiting the number of people allowed to gather in public spaces to three. The law, however, makes it clear that this only applies to public spaces.

A spokesperson for the police has confirmed that they have no legal right to stop anyone from gathering in groups larger than three, in private residences, and the legal notice only applies to public spaces. 

The spokesperson further confirmed that, whilst the police are aware of the La Paloma Hotel roof photo doing the rounds on Facebook, they could not intervene, as the former hotel is not a public space. 

The police did, however, receive a report on 6 April, due to an argument that broke out amongst some residences at the former hotel. No charges were made, as the person making the report decided to withdraw it. 

The police can only be called in if someone makes a report, due to, for example, an argument, loud music, or the such. In terms of social distancing, the police the law is enforceable in public spaces.

The former La Paloma Hotel no longer operates as a hotel. It was a Russian boarding school for a while but was then converted into rented apartments. 

During the August raid, police on site were seen checking immigration documents and are asking tenants whether they had residence permits, whilst a number of people were taken away in police vans. 

This newsroom also visited the premises a few days after the raid, and walking through the former reception area of the hotel it was understood why the police were heard stating the rooms were not “even fit for an animal to live in.”

Although the entrance was open, the building had a strong smell of sweat, urine and mould which grew stronger as one walked up the stairs. Tenants living in the blocks were paying between €200 and €300 a fortnight, sharing a room between four and seven people.

Following the raid and the sealed order, issued by the Environment Health Directorate, Christopher Drago, appearing in the name of the site owner, Bodistianu Evgueni Ivanoch, challenged the closure. 

On 10 September 2019, the Court upheld the warrant of prohibitory injunction, with Judge Francesco Depasquale noting that “While public health is important, the court cannot but observe that the authorities did not deem the situation urgent enough to seal the place the day it was notified.” The health authorities accompanied by the police had carried out a raid at dawn on 26 August 2019, whilst the complaint was filed on 19 August 2019.

The court decided that the Paloma Hotel would resume its business but ordered it to clean up its act in accordance with the Health Authority and the architects’ suggestions “as soon as possible.”

It was also reported by Malta Today that Bodistianu’s wife is a registered agent for the Maltese passport scheme, which sells Maltese citizenship to the global rich.



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