Updated: Fr Deo Debono pleads guilty

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Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Former parish priest Fr Deo Debono OSA was sentenced to a suspended two-year jail term after pleading guilty in court to charges relating to the theft of sacred art.

He was also ordered to pay €9,500 to a third-party victim of fraud.

The 36-year-old Augustinian Friar was accompanied by two police inspectors and assisted by lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell when he was charged in court on Monday.

The Provincial of the Augustinian Order Fr Leslie Gatt assisted by lawyer Karl Micallef, was also in the courtroom as parte civile in the case.

The Prosecuting officers, Police Inspector Jeffrey Farrugia and Saviour Baldacchino, along with the parte civile lawyer and the defence lawyer approached the bench to discuss the case out of earshot.

After some time, the police inspectors and lawyers returned to their benches. Magistrate Ian Farrugia turned to the accused and allowed him some time to think his admission.

“The charges are serious, and you, will be given a jail term,” Magistrate Farrugia warned, adding that the acts committed did not mean he will simply be fined.

Accompanied by his lawyer outside the courtroom, Fr Debono OSA returned shortly after and said that he admits to three charges brought against him.

The defence made a request to continue the proceedings behind closed doors, to which the prosecution agreed. The magistrate accepted the request made by the defence, and the proceedings continued behind closed doors.

Delivering his judgement in open court, the magistrate said that he took into consideration the early guilty plea and the fact that all the stolen art works had been recovered.

There was also an element of humiliation and blackmail.

Fr Deo Debono OSA was sentenced to a two-year jail term suspended for four years. He was also ordered to refund of €9,500 to a third-party who was a victim of fraud.

Earlier:

In a statement the police said that a man will be charged in a court presided over by Magistrate Ian Farrugia with the theft and misappropriation of objects from sacred places.

The Augustinian Friar was removed from parish priest in mid-September and barred from celebrating mass pending the outcome of the police investigation and court procedures against him. The decision was taken following an agreement between Provincial Fr Leslie Gatt and Archbishop Charles Scicluna.

READ: Valletta friar removed from Parish Priest following theft allegations

Fr Debono OSA is being investigated with alleged involvement in the theft of sacred works of art worth around €100,000.

Following the news, the external festivities of the feast of St Augustine were cancelled.

The theft happened at St Augustine’s Church some months ago but it was noticed because the stolen paintings were replaced by others in the convent’s corridor during maintenance work.

Police Inspectors Saviour Baldacchino and Jeffrey Scicluna prosecuted. Lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell was defence counsel.