September 27, 2010

Cairo van Gogh Theft an Inside Job?

The still-missing "Poppy Flowers", by Vincent van Gogh
An Egyptian minister said Sunday that an employee working at the Cairo museum likely participated in the theft.  Habib al-Adly told Egypt's official news agency "There are many circumstances around the theft of the Poppy Flowers that point to the fact that a museum employee participated in the theft or stole it himself . . .  The location and placement inside the museum confirms this".  This may explain why there was such a strong reaction to the arrest and a crack down on the museum's own staff and security personnel, or it may be an attempt to find a scapegoat.  Either a museum employee was complicit in the theft, or there was gross negligence which allowed this work to be cut from its frame.  There are still precious few details, and the work remains missing.

 
  1. AFP: Egypt museum employee behind Van Gogh theft: minister, AFP, September 26, 2010, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iUQB5fPhmiFCuK-JufZ785Af9icg (last visited Sep 27, 2010).
  2. Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Security problems abound in Egypt's museums, Associated Presshttp://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38884911/ns/technology_and_science-science/ (last visited Aug 28, 2010).

September 22, 2010

Two Forfeited Works Returned to Brazil

"Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave", Roy Lichtenstein
Art crime does not just include the theft of works of art or the looting of antiquities.  The value and portability of works of art make them a very convenient way to launder money as well.
I am quoted in a piece for NPR affiliate WNYC discussing the return of two objects to Brazil. 

This work by Roy Lichtenstein and another work by Joaquin Torres-Garcia were returned to the government of Brazil today during a ceremony in New York (press release).  The works were once owned by the disgraced Brazilian banker Edemar Cid Ferreira who was convicted and sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2006 for financial fraud.

A judge in Brazil ordered Ferreira to surrender his unlawfully-gained assets.  In an attempt to conceal some of these assets, these works were shipped to the Netherlands and then to New York where they were sold to unsuspecting buyers. The paperwork accompanying these works valued them at only $200, while they may be worth as much as $12 million.

This is an example of the use of civil forfeiture in policing the art and antiquities trade.  The "Portrait of Wally" settlement reached earlier this summer was also reached via forfeiture. Forfeiture allows prosecutors to bring a suit against an object which was part of a crime, and all claimants to the object come forward to challenge the forfeiture.  It is a powerful tool for prosecutors, as the burden of proof is far lower than the typical "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard typically involved in prosecutions.  Historically, federal prosecutors have intervened on behalf of origin nations or claimants when they have potential claims. Yet it has also been a useful tool in policing organized and white collar crimes. 
  1. Marlon Bishop, Lichtenstein and Torres García Paintings On the Way Back to Brazil, WNYC, September 21, 2010, http://culture.wnyc.org/articles/features/2010/sep/21/us-returns-brazilian-art/ (last visited Sep 21, 2010).
  2. Erica Orden, U.S. Returns Valuable Paintings Seized From Ex-Banker to Brazil, wsj.com, September 21, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704129204575506181973997368.html (last visited Sep 21, 2010).