Heritage boss Anton Refalo ducks and dives over declaring his art collection

Members of parliament are not explicitly requested to declare personal items of value, as declaration of assets typically consists of immovable property and financial assets declarations

Former Gozo Minister and Labour MP Anton Refalo has refused to engage with MaltaToday about his extensive art collection following his appointment as chairperson of Heritage Malta.

Over the past two weeks, the Heritage chair failed to answer phone calls, hung up when called by two different MaltaToday journalists, and refused to answer SMSes on whether he felt morally obliged to declare his collection, following his new position in Heritage Malta.

Refalo owns an extensive private art collection including masterpieces by artists such as Mattia Preti.

It was only through a Heritage Malta spokesperson that Refalo finally replied saying that he has always provided Parliament with a declaration of assets “as requested by and in accordance with the relevant legislation.”

Members of parliament are not explicitly requested to declare personal items of value, as declaration of assets typically consists of immovable property and financial assets declarations.

But last year, this newspaper revealed that Refalo had purchased a Preti painting for $401,211 (€371,233) using the Gozo ministry’s budget, despite the misgivings of Heritage Malta officials.

This agency had told the ministry it would not have considered purchasing the overpriced Preti painting. Refalo had defended this purchase in parliament, saying that it was bought with the permission of the Finance Ministry, which allowed Heritage Malta to place the bid for the painting up to a maximum of €350,000. He had insisted that the painting was bought for €320,000 for the Gozo Museum.

The Gozo museum itself was subject of controversy this month when the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) expressed disappointment at the fact that the museum was going to be built in place of a dilapidated building, previously a school, as the town’s primary school needed to be relocated to a more appropriate building.

Sources close to the Education Ministry told this newspaper that Minister Evarist Bartolo had expressed the wish to use the building – Ninu Cremona Block – for a school, but that Refalo, who was then Gozo minister, went ahead with the process of acquiring funds for the project.

In fact, the museum is co-financed by the European Development Fund and is worth €3,671,941.

This move by Refalo left the current Gozo Ministry with no choice but to carry on with the project, at risk of losing nearly €4 million in EU funds.

Refalo did not answer calls and an SMS message from MaltaToday for comment on this matter either.

A spokesperson for the justice and culture ministry told this newspaper that Refalo’s duties and honorarium will be “exactly as those obtained in Joe Buttigieg’s tenure.” Joe Buttigieg, the previous chairman, received an annual remuneration of €16,306.64, and enjoyed an additional car and mobile allowance. He was appointed chairman of the Committee of Guarantee earlier this month.

It was also reported that Refalo had purchased a Mattia Preti sketch for approximately €69,900, after having acquired the desk of former Nationalist prime minister George Borg Olivier for €25,000. Moreover, Refalo remains property-rich. In his declaration of assets, the MP declared a number of residences; three properties in Rabat, Gozo, a flat in Pieta, an Msida flat, a residence in Qala, five flats in Marsalforn, and a property in Xewkija.

Refalo also owns a legal office in Zebbug, and a number of inherited properties, land, and a garage. He declared a rental income of €7,200, and €4,600 deposits in the bank. Total gross emoluments according to his 2017 FS3 amounted to €24,505.