A man who stole two gold medals valued at €400,000 from the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa, “never imagined what they were worth,” his lawyer argued in court this week after his client admitted to the crime. 

Justin Mallia, the 25-year-old Cospicua resident, was arrested in March, hours after two very rare 19th-century medals went missing from the museum.

He had only been out on bail for a few days when he was targeted as the prime suspect behind the theft. 

Mallia, who was well known among police circles, was clearly identified on CCTV footage linking him to the theft of the precious artifacts. 

Police said he managed to slip into the museum by posing as an education official delivering documents while an event for schoolchildren was taking place.

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

The suspected thief was tracked down within hours and arrested at his home.

He handed over a pouch containing the stolen medals when police knocked at his door. When questioned, he told officers that he had stolen the medals to settle some pending debts. 

On March 19, Mallia was charged with aggravated theft, unlawful possession of the medals which were government property as well as defrauding the Maritime Museum. He was also charged with allegedly breaching three previous bail decrees. 

Mallia initially pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody. 

Prosecuting Inspector Paul Camilleri told the court that the medals had suffered “irreversible damage” because they brushed against other items inside the pouch where Mallia had placed them. 

When the case continued this week, Mallia changed his plea and registered an admission.

Since proceedings were still at an early stage and Mallia had cooperated with investigators, AG lawyer Etienne Savona explained that the prosecution would not insist on a maximum punishment. 

A five-year effective jail term would be appropriate, argued the prosecution.

That punishment did not appear to be contested by defence lawyer Joseph Brincat who pointed out further that the stolen medals had been retrieved on the day of the accused’s arrest. 

“Never did he imagine what they were worth,”[Qatt ma kien jobsor x’valur għandħom] the lawyer said when making submissions on punishment.

The court, presided by Magistrate Nadine Lia, deferred the case for judgment. 

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

Lawyer Joseph Brincat was defence counsel. 

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