Refalo thinks it’s funny

A long lost Picasso, Femme Couche VI, was hanging above the sofa in images released by the family.  It is unclear whether the painting, one of eight targeted for seizure by anti-corruption authorities, is genuine.  But the unexpected appearance of Picasso’s nude in blues and greens reclining on an orange and yellow bed added to fears that the family will use its now increased power to brazenly stifle efforts to recover the priceless artwork.

Newly elected Filipino president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos was visiting his mother Imelda, the despised former wife of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, at her home. Footage revealed the Picasso hanging in her sitting room.  The country traumatised by Marcos Senior’s brutal atrocities during his years of dictatorship had just returned his son to power with a landslide victory.

Amnesty international documented 3,257 extrajudicial killings and over 35,000 tortures, 77 disappeared and 70,000 incarcerations during Marcos’ rule.  In addition to the savage torture and murder of his adversaries, Marcos plundered billions of dollars from the State.  

His son, Ferdinand Jr, benefitted handsomely from his father’s State looting. The stark choice the Philippines faced was between the son of the notoriously brutal dictator and a human rights lawyer who promised a transparent government.  Filipinos chose the brutal dictator’s son – with a huge margin. Those who survived his father’s regime were appalled – and helpless.

To make matters worse, Marcos ran with Duterte’s daughter as his vice-presidential running mate. Duterte oversaw the murder of over 27,000 Filipinos according to the Commission for Human Rights. Over 19 journalists were murdered. When challenged about this ,Duterte replied: “Just because you’re a journalist, you’re not exempt from assassination if you’re a son of a b…”.

Imelda Marcos, the former dictator’s wife and the newly elected president’s mother, famous for her collection of thousands of designer shoes and extravagant spending, is appealing a 2018 criminal conviction on seven corruption charges each of which carries an 11-year prison sentence. 

Within hours of her son’s election, Imelda was openly displaying the Picasso she stole, safe in the knowledge she would face no investigation. Imelda was parading her absolute impunity, rubbing it in the faces of those tortured and who lost loved ones under her husband’s repressive dictatorship. The Presidential Commission on Good Governance managed to retrieve $5 billion plundered by the Marcos family, but Reuters reported billions more still to be recovered. Imelda was laughing in the face of decent citizens.

Back in Malta, Anton Refalo has been laughing too. “You were interrogated by police about the stone in your house,” the journalist kicked off. The minister burst out laughing in his face. “What explanation did you give the police?” the reporter asked. 

“I issued two public statements and I have nothing to add,” the minister replied.

As reporters fired questions, the minister kept smirking and repeating, “I gave two statements, I have nothing to add, alright”. 

“Do you think it appropriate that a minister is interrogated about something like this?”  

“I have nothing to add, I issued two statements.”  

“Are you going to resign?”

“Have charges been issued against you?” 

The minister slipped away, without answering a single question.

On 17 February, The Shift revealed that Minister Refalo had a 19th century historical artefact in his garden, at his Qala property, metres away from his swimming pool.  Like Imelda’s Picasso, the British era stone marker was openly displayed in photos uploaded to social media by the minister’s son, Andre’. Family members brazenly posed with the historical artefact.

Under pressure from media publicity, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage carried out a search of the minister’s property.  But Refalo issued a statement. “There was no search at my house,” he declared. He insisted it was he who invited the Superintendent to visit his house and see the stone marker for himself. 

The Superintendent, Kurt Farrugia, confirmed that “the competent authorities inspected the property to identify the artefact” which “has been identified and the proprietor is collaborating in full”. Farrugia refused to name Anton Refalo, bizarrely referring to him as “the proprietor”. What did Farrugia mean by “collaborating”?

“Everybody knows my love for Maltese cultural and historical heritage and I will continue to do my utmost to promote its preservation,” was Refalo’s reaction. His idea of preservation seems to be locking historical artefacts in his back garden under his watchful eyes, safe from potential vandals.

More than two months later, Refalo had not even been interrogated by police.  Neither Police Commissioner Gafa nor Superintendent Kurt Farrugia have brought any charges against the minister. Worse still, both ignored questions and several reminders. On 30 April, the Shift exposed the state-sponsored impunity.

Within the week, Minister Anton Refalo was finally called in for interrogation at the criminal investigations department. His spokesperson confirmed that Refalo had been questioned by police but refused to confirm whether he was questioned under caution. The spokesperson insisted that “he refuted the allegations, he also said from the start he would cooperate with the relevant authorities and that’s what he did this week when he gave the same explanation to the Malta Police Force”.

It is to the Maltese nation that Refalo owes an explanation. But instead of an honest apology and a humble resignation, Refalo displays his contempt for the public, grinning and smirking while adamantly refusing to answer even the most basic questions.

Dodging queries, evading journalists, insolently laughing at their demands for answers, Refalo flaunts his impunity.  Boosted by Gozitan voters’ endorsement, he knows Prime Minister Robert Abela cannot afford to lose more big guns from the 13th district. Refalo is confident nobody can touch him. The prime minister reappointed him minister despite the scandal.

Being found in possession of national heritage is a criminal offence punishable by a fine of up to €250,000 or a maximum prison sentence of six years. Yet like Imelda Marcos, Anton Refalo mocks his people safe in the knowledge that his power guarantees impunity.

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11 days ago

A bunch of corrupt politicians occupying il-MAQJEL ( as per anglu farrugia)

Joseph Tabone Adami
Joseph Tabone Adami
10 days ago

The Minister thinks it’s ‘funny’ – maybe. But I venture many are not prone to agree.

Mark Vassallo
Mark Vassallo
10 days ago

Be rest assured that even when there is a change of government, he will still be above the law.
Look how his illegal villa in Qala was allowed to get a permit.

10 days ago

While I don’t condone any illegal activity I think that the comparison is silly. A picasso with a stone that there are hundreds of. I don’t even understand why these are considered as heritage. Maybe because were made by the British. The author should try to write about something new. This is recycled.

Gaetano Pace
Gaetano Pace
9 days ago
Reply to  Peppi

What is the difference between recycled and impunity these days?

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