The public continues to be kept in the dark on any findings of a reported police investigation into Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo’s private possession of a historical artefact – a revelation brought to light by The Shift in February.
In parliamentary questions on Wednesday, National Heritage Minister Owen Bonnici provided no details as to whether the artefact, a protected 19th-century British-era marker, was found to be authentic or not, citing institutional independence.
The Shift had revealed that Refalo was in possession of the marker at his Qala home, where it adorned the courtyard, placed a few metres away from the pool. The marker was spotted in photos uploaded to social media by the minister’s son.
Asked by PN MP Mark Anthony Sammut whether, without going into the merits of the investigation, the stone marker was indeed authentic, Bonnici replied saying “at this stage, the minister doesn’t have the information as the relevant authorities are carrying out their work with full independence”.
Bonnici’s reply, or lack of, is the latest in a series of non-answers and lack of action that the public has received with regards to allegations incriminating a Cabinet member. In April, The Shift reported that Refalo has not yet been charged with any wrongdoing – either by the police or by the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage.
Both Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa – who claimed investigations are still underway – and Cultural Heritage Superintendent Kurt Farrugia, have so far failed to bring any charges against him.
When the minister’s misappropriation of the artefact was first exposed last February, Cultural Heritage Superintendent Kurt Farrugia rushed to issue a statement confirming that the protected artefact was found in the minister’s house and that “the proprietor was collaborating with the Superintendence”.
Asked repeatedly by The Shift to state whether he had filed a police report about the findings at the unnamed “proprietor’s” house, as he is obliged to do by law, and whether the protected marker was taken away from Refalo’s villa, Farrugia failed to answer. Several reminders sent were ignored.
Refalo, a former chairman of Heritage Malta, had admitted to having the protected 19th-century British-era marker at his home after pictures of the marker in the minister’s courtyard were first published.
Maltese national heritage laws state that any citizen or resident of Malta found to be in possession of national heritage is to be prosecuted for a criminal act. If found guilty, the crime is punishable with a fine “of not less than €2,000 and not exceeding €250,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six years.