The Malta Maritime Museum has beefed up security and launched an internal probe following the theft of two gold medals which sustained irreversible damage until they were recovered.

The measures came after Justin Mallia, 25, from Cospicua allegedly posed as an official from the education department, visiting the museum to deliver documents, when he allegedly stole the gold medals to settle debts.

He was arrested before he had time to sell the items worth €400,000 but the medals were placed inside a pouch and were subsequently damaged.

A spokesperson for the culture ministry told Times of Malta that, in parallel with the magisterial inquiry requested by the police, Heritage Malta had appointed an internal board to investigate everything that happened on the day in question.

She said that, until the board presents its report with its recommendations on how security can be improved, the culture agency took “all the necessary measures to further strengthen the museum’s security system”.

She added that it was thanks to the museum’s current system that the alleged perpetrator was apprehended by the police.

This was confirmed in court during the last sitting when police inspector Paul Camilleri explained how Mallia, who is known to the police, was identified on CCTV footage provided by the museum.

Mallia is denying 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.

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 free Malta from the French.

They are very rare and, therefore, valuable, particularly because of their historical significance to Malta.Initially Mallia registered an admission when he appeared in court, explaining that 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. 

The court heard so far how he was granted access while an event for schoolchildren was taking place.

The inspector said the medals sustained damage inside the pouch as they were brushing against other items. The medals were inside a showcase that was forced open.

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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