I am the owner of a flat in Saint Julian’s – Paceville to be exact. For some time now I have known that I share the address of this flat with over fifty individuals who I have never met or contacted in any way. I have known of this Kafkesque situation for over two years.
I have been waiting for a police investigation to be concluded on the issue but due to the prominence that such situations are currently being given in the media and in order to avoid any nasty consequences that could be made by “investigative journalists” jumping to the wrong conclusions I have decided to tell the story of how this came to be on this blog. It is a story that results from the ridiculous legislation and administrative rules governing residence in Malta and (for the record) it starts under a nationalist administration and continues under a labour one. Bear with me. This might take some time….
I am J. 11 years ago, just before I got to know that I would be moving to Luxembourg for a new job I signed an agreement to purchase an apartment in Paceville. Why Paceville? Why not? I had grown up there and I liked it. I never had the chance to move in. By the time I actually bought the apartment I was already installed in Luxembourg. For a very long time it would be my holiday base and I resisted all entreaties to put it on the rental market – partly because I know that I lack the business acumen required in such circumstances (yes, I’m missing some Gozitan traits).
You should know that my visits to Malta are always short and tend to centre around Bank Holiday/Holiday periods when administrations and businesses are on shut down. Anything from installing a phone line to getting work done on the flat would be a logistical nightmare. Even in the internet age you would be surprised as to the number of transactions that require your presence (in person) “Ghax Sir, ma nistghux naqduk inkella”.
Sometime around mid 2012 I decided to bite the bullet and rent out the flat for a short trial period. I approached a decent estate agent based in Paceville and literally got a tenant within seconds. It was simply a question of opening my mouth and saying “I have a flat in Paceville to rent”. The agent told me he had a client next door who was looking for just that. I checked out the person. He seemed a decent businessman, Austrian. He told me that he wanted to start a business in Malta – a driving school aimed at foreign customers.
I assumed (as you would) that the guy needed accommodation in Malta while he would run the school elsewhere. Who runs a school from a flat? Who indeed. The rental contract was signed and Mr Hans Dieter Schwing (real name, not that he gave me any incentive to protect his identity) moved in. There I was thinking Mr Schwing would use my flat as accommodation while running the “school” in appropriate quarters he would probably rent elsewhere.
In fact I had checked out the Schwing’s website – it offered a package to German and Austrian clients (later it turned out to be also East European clients) who would obtain a Maltese driving license “within weeks of applying”. It seemed above board, website and all so I signed the rental agreement and Schwing moved in. He had told me that sometimes it would be a rep of his who would use the apartment as he was moving between Germany and Malta.
As I mentioned earlier I am rarely in Malta and between visits I corresponded with Schwing or his representative in Malta via email. As tenants go they were not very demanding bar the request for a few more fans in summer. I had the first indication of problems half way through the rent when the rep became incomunicado and payments stopped only to be resumed within a month or so. I put this down to bickering between the rep and Schwing. Within a few more months (by March 2013) however everything went awry. Rental payments stopped and Schwing & Co. literally vanished. When I came back to my apartment it was a complete mess. All of the furnishings were broken or irretrievably damaged, the walls and structures damaged (drillings) and there was evidence that the apartment had been used as a dorm including lockers and all.
Schwing was untraceable and I could neither sue for damage nor for rent lost. The damage to the apartment went far beyond the rent payment that had been settled. I resigned myself to repairing the damage and swore never to rent the apartment again. The trouble though was only about to begin.
It turns out that by the beginning of summer in 2013 the post box in the apartment was bulging with mail addressed to persons I had no idea existed. VAT department, Inland Revenue, Financial Services and ID Card office. On my occasional visit I would go through the mail and resend them in the post with “No such person at this address” written across the envelope.
In June 2013 I received a summons from the Police Fraud Unit (now Economic Crimes). The summons read “kaz ta’ falsifikazzjoni ta’ dokumenti u dikjarazzjonijiet foloz”. To be exact, the summons was posted to the address of my apartment. I only read the mail in late September when a family member had been through the mail and I immediately contacted the police officer in question. First thing I informed them is that Jacques Rene’ Zammit would be a Sinjur not a Sinjura as their letter indicated and then I informed them of my willingness to collaborate with their investigation.
On my next visit to Malta which happened to be in November 2013 I was interviewed by PS Sean Scicluna in the Office of Inspector Rennie Stivala. I gave my side of events twice that day. The reason I gave them twice was that the first time that I recounted my story there was a power cut at Police HQ as soon as I finished and I had to return in the afternoon since all the data had been lost on the PC – apparently no save was made while the deposition was in progress.
I signed the declaration and left the office hoping that I would get news from the police regarding any progress. Almost two years have gone by and I have no news from their part yet. Meanwhile I have invested considerable amounts of money in restructuring the flat (an investment that far outweighs the meagre amount I had managed to recoup from the rent period) and I stand by my resolution never again to rent it out to anyone. The mailbox is still regularly flooded with administrative documentation (as is clear from the envelope) and it was touching to see how quickly the political parties added the new “residents” to their mail lists.
From my interview with the police it turns out that it is remarkably easy for someone to get an ID on a residence that is not theirs. The owner is practically powerless and it is even more complicated to get the names OFF the register once they are there. In the words of the police officer you could have walked into the ID office and said you lived in “1, Castille Square” and probably got your ID card.
I am not a victim of the fraudsters. In my case this is no conspiracy of the Joe Sammut kind. I am a victim of shoddy administrative systems that can be so easily abused of. The worst part is that the moment the abnormal list of residents in one flat came into the hands of the police the number one suspect is the owner of the property. This is a ridiculous situation where a citizen can end up bearing the consequences of the shoddy screening by the administration. It does not stop with ID Cards. There are VAT numbers and even letters from the Employment and Training Corporation. I am also almost sure that the dossier at the Fraud Unit had been kicked off by the Electoral Commission (yes, I sneaked a peak during my two hours long interview – boohoo Kaizer Sauzee).
That the current government is so malleable when it comes to dealing in residences is no bonus for people (and I am sure there are many others) in my situation.
I had not felt it necessary to make this issue public because it is a private issue that I had hoped will one day be solved by police intervention and by the smarting up of the administrative authorities who should have better checks about who they register on their books. Since however the flat in question is now being mentioned and linked to other dealings I prefer doing a Wikileaks on myself as I said earlier rather than have the “investigative journalists” have a field day about whatever spurious links they may conjure up between myself and the free-riding residents of my Paceville apartment.
- People ask how can one not notice when loads of mail arrives in one’s mailbox addressed to unknown persons? True. In my case I am abroad most of the time and when I am back it is a case of piles and piles of letters. Thankfully the police summons came relatively quickly and I was hoping that their work would put an end to the situation. I also ask however how can someone at the VAT department or ETC send out 50 or so letters to different individuals all based at the same address without batting an eyelid?
- Schwing is still on the run as far as I know. When, after the interview, I asked the police to inform me if he is brought to Malta I was told “good luck, he has loads of creditors who are ready to pounce on him” and they also mentioned a prominent Sliema businessman.
- My flat is NOT for rent, so please no enquiries.
- also in today’s Times: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150903/local/i-am-victim-says-fake-lease-address-owner.582964