Melanie Gerlis and Javier Pes for The Art Newspaper quote both ARCA founder Noah Charney and ARCA Lecturer Dick Ellis in today's online article "Recovery rate for stolen art as low as 1.5%":
The rate of recovery and successful prosecution in cases of art theft is startlingly low, with one expert putting it at only 1.5% globally, The Art Newspaper has learned, underlining the challenges of identifying and returning stolen works. The global cost of crimes linked to art and antiques was recently estimated at £3.7bn a year by the UK’s Association of Chief Police Officers. Noah Charney, a professor of art history specialising in art crime and the founder of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, which organised a symposium on the subject at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum this month, says that statistics are hard to come by because police forces seldom distinguish between stolen art and other stolen goods. “A Rembrandt is classified with a CD,” he says.
At the core of the problem is the low importance that most police forces attach to such crimes; the exception is Italy’s Carabinieri, which claims that its force of 350 officers recovers around 30% of lost art. The theft of property in general “has a low priority in Britain and across Europe”, said Dick Ellis, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit, at the symposium. In the UK, for example, the Metropolitan Police has just three officers dedicated to art crime (down from 14 around 20 years ago). In the US, the FBI has around 14 agents trained to investigate art crimes, although they do not work on these exclusively. Attempts to pool information on stolen works to create a comprehensive, international database have failed, largely because of a lack of funding.
Without proper public funding, the onus is on private firms, who charge a recovery fee of as much as 30% of a work’s value. Here, there are also areas of contention, particularly surrounding the issue of paying informers for leads on stolen works. This area is a “legal minefield”, said Claire Hutcheon, the head of the Met’s Art and Antiques Unit. “Art cannot be recovered at any cost,” she said.