Two men have been taken to court to face charges related to the major theft from Cospicua parish church on July 22.

Marflene Cricchiola, 30, and Gianluca Sultana, 19, both pleaded not guilty.

Sacred objects worth some €30,000 had been stolen from the church after the thieves gained access to the roof via scaffolding set up on the facade for restoration works - a method similar to a theft from Zabbar parish church some years ago.

The thieves then made their way to the choir by climbing down a rope.

Cricchiola, who is due to take up a job next week, and Sultana, a technician, were jointly charged with the aggravated theft, the damage to cultural property, damage to third party property as well as with having damaged works of art, namely the glass niche enclosing the statue of the Virgin besides other sacred artworks inside the Collegiate Church.

The two men, accompanied in court by their heavily pregnant partners, sat side by side in the dock while the prosecution explained the scenario behind the alleged theft.

The court, presided over by magistrate Josette Demicoli, heard how Mr Sultana had reportedly borrowed money from a third party to hand over to Mr Cricchiola. Since the latter could not repay the loan, the two devised a plan to lay their hands upon sufficient funds to settle the debt. The plan, which involved the break in at the Cospicua church, was allegedly carried out on the night of July 21.

Lawyer Franco Debono, when making submissions on bail on behalf of Mr Sultana, pointed out that since the alleged coup his client had been out on police bail and had fully cooperated with the authorities. “It does not make sense to grant police bail and then object to bail,” argued Dr Debono, pre-empting such an objection by the prosecution.

Moreover, his client was a first time offender with a clean criminal record who had proved himself trustworthy while under police bail.

Lawyer Marion Camilleri, assisting Mr Cricchiola, whilst also pointing out that her client had proved trustworthy while out on police bail, further stressed that the man's pregnant partner needed his assistance. As the sole breadwinner she had to provide for the family which consisted of two other children.

Inspector Joseph Mercieca countered that in the case of Mr Sultana the sole concern of the prosecution was the fact that civilian witnesses were still to testify. However in respect of Mr Cricchiola the objection was stronger in view of the fact that the man was also being charged with relapsing and with having breached previous bail conditions.

“Police bail is an extension of arrest. The offence was committed whilst on bail, he breached his curfew and didn’t sign his bail book. This is a different scenario to the other accused,” inspector Mercieca argued.

Moreover the fact that the man’s partner “did not give him a blank cheque to be allowed out on bail,” the prosecutor remarked.

The court, after hearing submissions for the two co-accused, upheld the request for bail in respect of Mr Sultana against a deposit of €1,000 and a personal guarantee of €6,000, under condition of observing a curfew, signing the bail book three times weekly and keeping away from the Cospicua church.

In the case of Mr Cricchiola, bail was denied.

Lawyers Franco Debono and Amadeus Cachia assisted Mr Sultana.

Lawyers Marion Camilleri and Yanika Vidal assisted Mr Cricchiola.

Nothing was said in court about the recovery of the stolen items.  

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