Updated 2pm with Heritage Malta statement

A 25-year-old Cospicua resident who was given bail just days ago has been charged with stealing two gold medals valued at €400,000 from the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa.

Justin Mallia was on Tuesday escorted to court to face charges of aggravated theft, being in possession of the two illegally acquired medals belonging to the government of Malta and defrauding the Maritime Museum. 

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

The accused risked forfeiting €20,800 in bail money. 

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.

The two gold coins from both sides. Photo: Heritage MaltaThe two gold coins from both sides. Photo: Heritage Malta

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. 

When explaining the events leading to the arrest, the prosecution said 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 well known to the police, was subsequently clearly identified on CCTV footage and the police managed to track him down at 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.

His lawyer contested the fraud charge, arguing it would be absorbed by the charge of aggravated theft.

The accused then piped in, saying he had changed his mind and retracted his guilty plea.

Magistrate Charmaine Galea had previously informed the accused he was facing the prospect of a maximum jail term of eight years.

No request for bail was made at this stage and Mallia was remanded in custody. 

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

In a statement sent before the arraignment, the police said the theft was reported at 2pm on Monday. Investigations followed and the suspect, a 26-year-old man from Cospicua, was arrested about two hours later.

An inquiry is also being held.

In a statement, Heritage Malta said the police caught the alleged thief in a few hours thanks to the immediate action taken by museum officials and the significant investment in the museum's security systems.

This enabled the police to promptly identify and apprehend the man.

Heritage Malta thanked the police for their professionalism and for the efficiency demonstrated by all the officers involved.

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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