[WATCH] Update 2 | Priest pleads guilty to theft of artworks from his Valletta convent

Suspended sentence for former parish priest Fr Deo Debono • Magistrate orders journalists out of the courtroom when submissions over punishment are being made

Fr Deo Debono exiting court on Monday after being handed down a suspended sentence for stealing artworks from his convent
Fr Deo Debono exiting court on Monday after being handed down a suspended sentence for stealing artworks from his convent
Fr Deo Debono exits court after pleading guilty to theft

Updated at 2.05pm with court sentence

Fr Deo Debono, the former parish priest of the Augustinian parish in Valletta, was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for four years, after admitting to theft of artworks from his convent.

He was also ordered to pay €9,500 in damages to the person who bought the artworks without knowing that they were stolen. In its judgment, the court noted that all stolen items were recovered and the priest took nothing for himself.

In his ruling, Magistrate Ian Farrugia said the case involved an element of "humiliation and blackmail".

Earlier

Debono was investigated at length after paintings went missing from his own convent in Valletta. Investigations uncovered other missing objects.

Debono appeared calm and expressionless as he waited to be charged in front of duty magistrate Ian Farrugia.

Inspectors Saviour Baldacchino and Jeffrey Scicluna charged the 36 year-old cleric with aggravated theft, theft of cultural patrimony, misappropriation and fraud.

Debono gave his occupation as parish priest, although he was removed from parish priest and barred from celebrating mass in public by Archbishop Charles Scicluna after news of the investigation emerged. The decision was taken in consultation with the provincial of the Augustinian Order in Malta, Fr Leslie Gatt, who was present this morning as parte civile, assisted by lawyer Karl Micallef.

Police investigations honed in on Debono after the authorities were alerted to the presence of a stolen silver thurible at an antique shop.

The incense holder was reported stolen from a cloister used by the Augustinian nuns in Valletta. 

Further investigations uncovered more stolen items, including “priceless” paintings that were found in a house known to Debono.

In court this afternoon, Debono’s lawyer, Stephen Tonna Lowell asked the court to allow him and the prosecution to approach the bench before entering a plea. The magistrate granted the request and the four men formed a huddle around the magistrate’s desk, discussing the case in hushed tones.

After about 15 minutes, the meeting dispersed.

Debono pleaded guilty. The court warned him that the charges could carry with them a “considerable” term of imprisonment. “This is not a small crime that you’re getting fined €20 and its like nothing ever happened,” remarked the magistrate. After a short time of reflection, the priest reiterated his guilty plea, nodding in understanding as the magistrate made it clear that he could face prison.

But when it was time for submissions to be made on the punishment, the magistrate then ordered the media out of the courtroom, citing section 531 of the criminal code, which deals with “proceedings, which if conducted in public, might be offensive to modesty, or might cause scandal.”

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