Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa’ is still investigating the discovery of an item of protected national heritage at the Qala residence of Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, but no charges have been filed in court.
Minister Refalo continues to dodge questions about how a 19th century British-era marker ended up at his home. Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Kurt Farrugia, who is obliged by law to file a police report over the confirmed discovery, has also gone silent.
The Shift published evidence in February about a VR (Victoria Regina) stone marker decorating the courtyard of one of Minister Refalo’s properties in Qala, Gozo.
The marker is protected by law as part of Malta’s national heritage, and was discovered by chance when the minister’s son Andre posted a photo on social media during a party at their home.
The Shift published aerial photos of the minister’s residence showing the protected artifact, which had been placed in Refalo’s courtyard meters away from his swimming pool.
Heritage officers reportedly visited the minister’s property following The Shift’s revelations and confirmed the protected artifact was in Refalo’s possession, adding that “the proprietor was collaborating with the Superintendence.” They would not confirm if a police report had been filed.
Refalo denied that his house had been searched, claiming in a statement that he had invited officials from the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage to view the marker.
Asked by The Shift if any progress had been made in the investigation and whether he has filed a police report as obliged by law, Farrugia did not reply.
Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa’ told The Shift “the police are still investigating”, but would not say whether criminal charges will be brought against the minister.
Refalo and his Ministry have not replied to our questions.
While Refalo issued a public statement to confirm that he is cooperating with the authorities, he has not explained how he acquired the VR marker and why he failed to report its discovery to the authorities, as required by the Cultural Heritage Act, and instead kept it at his home.
“Everyone knows of my love for Maltese heritage and patrimony,” he said in his statement, “which preservation I will continue to promote.”
Cultural heritage experts told The Shift that the minister’s “love for heritage” does not give him any right to keep the artifact at his home. His disregard of the law is even more serious because he is a cabinet minister and a former Chairman of Heritage Malta.
“This makes the minister’s illegality even more deliberate,” the sources said.
Under the Cultural Heritage Act, “any person who receives or retains any cultural property knowing that it has been illegally removed in Malta or illegally exported from any other country” is committing a crime.
Under Article 70 of the Act, appropriating items of historical and cultural value is punishable with a fine “of not less than two thousand euro (€2,000) and not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand euro (€250,000), or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six (6) years”.
Questions sent to Prime Minister Robert Abela by The Shift remain unanswered.
Featured image: Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa, Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo, and Superintendent of Cultural Heritage Kurt Farrugia.