Two medals stolen from the Maritime Museum earlier this week sustained "irreversible damage ", a court heard on Thursday. 

Police inspector Paul Camilleri told Magistrate Nadine Lia that Justin Mallia, 25, from Cospicua stole the gold medals to settle debts. He was arrested before he had time to sell the items worth €400,000.

Camilleri was testifying in the compilation of evidence against Mallia who denies aggravated theft, being in possession of the two illegally acquired medals belonging to the government of Malta and defrauding the Maritime Museum. 

It emerged that Mallia was given bail just days before being charged with stealing the medals from the Vittoriosa museum.

The medals were awarded to National Congress members who fought to liberate Malta from France. Photo: Heritage MaltaThe medals were awarded to National Congress members who fought to liberate Malta from France. Photo: Heritage Malta

He also stands charged with breaching three bail decrees, the latest one given on March 6. 

According to Heritage Malta, the medals were awarded between 1800 and 1801 to leaders and distinguished members of the National Congress battalions who fought to liberate Malta from the French.

They are very rare and, therefore, valuable, particularly because of their historical significance to Malta's history.

During his arraignment earlier this week, Mallia first registered an admission, saying he had stolen the medals to settle a pending debt he incurred to pay for bail in a separate case. He then retracted his admission. 

Inspector Camilleri on Thursday explained that the suspect had posed as an official from the education department, visiting the museum to deliver documents.

An event for schoolchildren was taking place at the time and he was granted access.

Mallia, who is known to the police, was later identified on CCTV footage and the police traced him to an address that was different to the one registered for previous bail purposes. 

When they knocked on his door, he gave them a pouch containing the medals.

The inspector said the medals sustained damage inside the pouch as they were brushing against other items. 

He said the medals were inside a showcase that was forced open when Mallia stole them.

The case continues.

Inspectors Antonello Magri and Paul Camilleri together with AG lawyers Etienne Savona, Alessia Schembri and Nicholas Degaetano prosecuted. 

Lawyer Alfred Abela was defence counsel. 

The museum only reopened its doors last month after four years for a new year-long exhibition being held in newly restored sections of the museum. 

Built by the British in 1842 on the ruins of a Knight-era arsenal, the building mainly served as a bakery for the Mediterranean Fleet. It was converted into a museum in 1992.

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