Times of Malta, 12 May 2009 – by Mark Micallef –

Trade finance group Fimbank has disassociated itself from the Mistra Heights development which was said to have the bank’s backing.

“FIMBank wishes to clarify that it is neither a partner, nor a lender nor has it issued any guarantees or indeed financing in relation to the project,” the bank said in a company announcement on the stock exchange yesterday.

The massive, 868-appartment high rise complex over the Xemxija ridge is at a standstill and the project’s marketing team has been laid off but developers JPM Brothers director Jeffrey Montebello denied that there were problems financing the project.

He said: “How can we have problems financing this project if Fimbank is one of our partners?”

But when questioned about this statement yesterday, in light of the Fimbank announcement, Mr Montebello said that when he spoke of the bank as a partner he was referring to one of the Kuwaiti partners in the Mistra Heights project, Najeeb Al Saleh, who is also the chairman of Fimbank Group internationally. The bank, however, also clarified yesterday that the Kuwaiti real estate company in which Mr Al Saleh is a shareholder, Al Massaleh Real Estates Limited, has no direct relations with FIMBank, despite him being a chairman of the bank.

Mr Montebello insisted yesterday that the point was that the project was backed by strong financiers.

However, the whole issue was prompted by information that the local partners were having trouble financing the project. Still, Mr Montebello insisted yesterday that there were no such problems and that the project was at a standstill because of planning bureaucracy.

He also reiterated that there were no negotiations for the Kuwaiti partners to take over.

A spokesman for Fimbank said the company announcement was made to clarify any misleading impression which the statements reported in the article could have given, since the article indicated that Fimbank was involved in the project, and this was not the case.

The development, meant to be standing at a height of eight or 11 floors, depending on the road level, is supposed to replace the former Mistra Village.

Project manager Dean Wells had predicted that sales, which should have started this year, would start next Spring and that, planning authority permitting, works would commence shortly before that.

The decision of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority to approve the outline development permit last June had come under fire from environmental organisations due to the height of the complex.

The company bought the former Mistra Village holiday complex in 2005 and the planned development costs were last year estimated at some €250 million, half of which was direct foreign investment.