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MALTATODAY 13 February 2022

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2 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 13 FEBRUARY 2022 NEWS MATTHEW VELLA THE government has come up with a novel way to stymie the attempts by a business group that is claiming ownership of large swathes of land in Gozo, due to its control of a 17th cen- tury noblewoman's property foundation. With homeowners in Qala and Nadur fearing they will lose the title to their homes, the govern- ment has stepped in to dead-leg the Abbazia di Sant Antonio del- li Navarra from registering the land in its name, or challenge ex- isting homeowners' titles. The unprecedented move has come by way of a 'deregistration' that revokes all land registra- tions over a large area in Nadur, including the titles of the 17th century Abbazia from the last two years. The deregistration of the so- called Land Registration Area (LRA) was enacted by legal no- tice on Friday, with the home af- fairs minister 'freezing' any form of registration, just two years since Nadur and other Gozitan villages had been finally regis- tered as LRAs. The move comes two years since Prime Minister Robert Ab- ela was petitioned by concerned residents in Gozo whose prop- erty titles were challenged by a business group composed of the redoubtable lawyer Carmelo Galea, former magistrate Den- nis Montebello, and the Stagno Navarra family, purported heirs of the noblewoman Cosmanna Navarra. As shareholders in Carravan Ltd, they control a 17th century foundation that long time ago arbitrarily swept up swathes of lands in Qala and Nadur. Adding insult to injury for the residents in these villages, is the Maltese Catholic archdiocese's offhand decision to relinquish the con- trol it previously had on the foundation, to Carravan, after a 30-year legal battle. Today, Carravan is challenging property titles of homeowners in Qala and Nadur, with residents fighting their pretensions in ex- pensive court cases. But the legal notice now freez- es these registrations, bringing a stalemate to proceedings that for the time being, stop Carravan from putting out the land for de- velopment as it did in Qala. The legal notice could yet be challenged in the Maltese courts, given that the LRA in Nadur reg- istered in 2019 gave rise to prop- erty registrations that brought with them "legitimate expecta- tions" of asset value. LRAs are designated areas in Malta where an effective title to land must be registered by those who own it. Notaries reg- ister property sales falling inside LRAs within two weeks, whether they are a first-time or subse- quent registration. This also means that pretend- ers to a property's title can chal- lenge any registration by filing a caution against it. After 10 years pass the first reg- istration, that title is converted into a guaranteed title – as long as no caution was filed against that title during that period. Gozo land grab Cosmanna Navarra's property foundation was created in 1675, claiming vast amounts of land in Gozo that were to be controlled by her first-born male descend- ants. When the Navarra line ran out of first-born male descendants, the Abbazia was placed under the control of a priest delegated by the Archbishop. In 1992, Richard Stagno Navar- ra petitioned the courts to have him recognised as the Abbazia's 'rector' after the Archbishop of the time refused to hand over the foundation to him. Stagno Navarra obtained a controversial decree from Mag- istrate Carol Peralta – all in the space of 24 hours and without the Church being notified – to be made rector. Stagno Navarra then used that decree to transfer the lands to Carravan, a com- pany owned by Montebello and Galea. The Church protested, and filed a case challenging the de- cision in 1992, which was finally resolved in 2013 in their favour. But in 2017, Archbishop Charles Scicluna acquiesced to a request by Carravan, to nom- inate its representative, the law- yer Patrick Valentino as rector, for a €200,000 contribution to be used to fulfil the pious obli- gations laid down by Cosmanna Navarra in the Abbazia deed. The Archbishop is of the opin- ion that Navarra's foundation was founded for her heirs, and that the Church's control was necessary up until a descend- ant is able to take control of the foundation. Still, the process to relinquish control happened at breakneck speed. First, the Abbazia was deregis- tered from the Joint Office's list of church properties – an office composed of government and Holy See delegates to administer the transfer of Church lands to the State. The Maltese Church asked for the deletion of the Abbazia from the so-called Annex 8. But the Joint Office does not verify such requests: "We rest on their (the Church's) word... that's what the Concordat says," the office's di- rector Duncan Mifsud told the courts in one of the Gozo cases between Carravan and home- owners. A second sore point are the claims of lineage by the Stag- no Navarras, which have never been verified. No independent verification of the family tree presented by Richard Stagno Navarra back in 1992 has ever been carried out, but the document itself was nev- er attacked in any of the dozen court cases that have character- ised the court saga. Archbishop Charles Scicluna himself told the court in one of these cases, that he made no ver- ifications as to the claim of line- age. But he said that since Car- ravan and the Stagno Navarras had guaranteed the legitimacy of their claim, he could see no problem with their demands. State dead-legs Abbazia with Nadur deregistration Government revokes land registrations over Nadur to stop company claiming to own 17th century noblewoman's property trust, from registering titles in its name

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