April 24, 2019

4 of 6 individuals, believed to be tied to a Pink Panther operating cell, head to trail in the jewel heist at the Doge's Palace in Venice.


Following up on the museum jewel heist which occurred during the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition at the Doge's Palace in Venice in January 2018.   

On January 3, 2018 jewelry worth an estimated €2m (£1.7m) was stolen from a display case at the museum palace of the Doge of Venice during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery which occurred shortly after ten in the morning on the last day of the exhibition. Taken during the theft were a pair of pear-shaped 30.2-carat diamond earrings in a platinum setting along with an equally weighty 10 carat, grade D diamond and ruby pendant brooch.  Both items belonged to His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, a member of the Qatari royal family, who is the first cousin of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.  

According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, the Italian authorities had long suspected that the thieves behind the museum theft might have had inside help and were likely part of a criminal network made up of associates from the former Yugoslavia, sometimes referred to as "the Pink Panthers".  This network, working in small yet coordinated cells, are believed to be responsible for some 200+ robberies spanning 35 countries over the last two decades.  Some thefts, like that at the Doge's palace, have been discreet, 60-second affairs.  Others have been armed robberies or have involved automobiles being rammed into glass storefronts.  In total the thieves are believed to have made off with an estimated €500 million in jewels and gemstones, much of which has never been recovered.

But everyone knows that good police work sometimes requires patience. 

Following months of investigations by the mobile squad of the Venice Police Headquarters and the  Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, working alongside prosecutor Raffaele Incardona, six suspects were ultimately identified by the Italian authorities. Between November 7 and November 8, 2018 five of these men, including four Croatians and one Serb, were taken into custody in Croatia in a coordinated action involving Police Directorates in Zagreb and Istra based upon European arrest warrants issued for the suspect's related to their alleged involvement in the Venice museum theft. 

Five of those named by Italian authorities are believed to have visited the Doge's Palace in Venice on two test-run occasions prior to the actual theft.  Their first visit occurred on December 30, 2018 and their second on the day before the robbery.   Each time the team apparently tried to steal jewelry from the exhibition without success or were practicing in advance of the final event. 

Vinko Tomic
The brains behind the heist is purported to be 60-year-old Vinko Tomic, who goes by several other names, including Vinko Osmakčić and Juro Markelic.  No stranger to crime Tomic has already been connected with other million dollar hits.  Tomic has been implicated in the thefts of $1m worth of diamond watches in Honolulu, the heist of the $1m Millennium Necklace in Las Vegas, the filching of three rings, collectively worth £2m in London, and other high value jewel heists in Hong Kong, Monaco and Switzerland.  

When appearing in court in connection with one prior offense, Tomic made a statement to the presiding judge that he was a war veteran originally from the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina who was wounded in battle in 1995 and who fled, first to Croatia and later to Germany.  There,  unable to find work, he stated he eventually turned to a life of crime, though he managed to provide for his family and put his brother through school. 

For Italian law enforcement their biggest break in the case came as a result of a slip up on the part of the gang's leader.  According to chief prosecutor Bruno Cherchi, the Venice police chief Danilo Gagliardi, and Alessandro Giuliano, director of the Central Operational Service of the Central Anti-crime Directorate of the State Police, who spoke at a press conference on the investigation, officers identified a Facebook photo of Tomic wearing an identical ring to the one he was wearing when captured on CCTV footage at the Doge's Palace in Venice. 

Tomic's alleged accomplices to the Venice jewel theft are listed here:

Zvonko Grgić
Zvonko Grgić (age 43) whose now static Facebook profile lists him as an armed security contractor available for global security around the world. 

Želimir Grbavac
Želimir Grbavac, (age 48), who, according to Croatian news sources appears to have lived a discreet existence, operating an electrician business. 

Vladimir Đurkin (age 48), also Croatian.

and two Serbs, Dragan Mladenović (age 54) and Goran Perović (age 48).

Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were arrested on Wednesday, November 7, 2018 in Zagreb, while Đurkin was brought in for questioning in Istria. Mladenović was initially apprehended near the Serb-Croatian border and detained in Croatian police custody, only to escape while in police custody via a bathroom window on November 8, 2018.  How this happened while he was in police custody has been subject to controversy. 

On the basis of their European arrest warrants, three of the Croatians, Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac were quickly transferred to Italy to stand trial. 

A month and a half after their arrest in Croatia, on December 23, 2019 Tomic, Grgić, and Grbavac made their initial appearance in Italian court before preliminary investigations judge David Calabria and maintained their right to remain silent.  Vinko Tomic was represented by lawyers Guido Simonetti and Simone Zancani.  Zvonko Grgić was represented by lawyer Marina Ottaviani and Želimir Grbavac was represented by lawyer Mariarosa Cozza.  

Fighting his extradition, Vladimir Đurkin was finally transferred to the Italian authorities on February 8, 2019.  The presiding judge has ruled that all four defendants will remain in custody at the prison of Santa Maria Maggiore in Venice pending the outcome of their upcoming trial. 

Serbian Dragan Mladenović and the final identified accomplice, Goran Perović, are believed to be in Serbia where they are untouchable by a European Arrest Warrant, a Convention which governs extradition requests between the 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU).  With no agreement between Italy and Serbia on judicial cooperation, there seems little chance that these two remaining accomplices will be extradited to Italy to stand trial.

And His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's jewels? 

International insurers Lloyd's of London has indemnified the Al Thani Foundation, as the owner of the stolen brooch and earrings and has payed out a claim of 8 million and 250 thousand dollars making the firm the owners of the jewellery, should they be recovered.  As a result the insurers will likely become a civil party in the future trial of the alleged perpetrators.

Unfortunately the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" have never been found. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

April 16, 2019

A film about the king of counterfeiters, Forger Eric Hebborn

Photo of Eric Hebborn from his Facebook Page. 
By Lynda Albertson. 

Those who study art crime already know about the mysterious death, on a rainy morning in Rome, of the king of counterfeiters, art fraudster Eric Hebborn.   But was his death at the hands of the Mafia, poor drunken coordination, or, a lack of follow-up care at the hospital?  How the famous forger died has long been debated, despite evidence pointing clearly to the latter.  Splashed across art newspapers and major news outlets this weeks, articles are popping up about an upcoming ambitious TV drama that is set to highlight the famous con man and the suspicion of mafia involvement in his 1996 death in Trastevere. 

But just who is Eric Hebborn and how did he die?

Eric Hebborn was a wiley and talented artist, who got his first taste for paintings fraud creating pencil drawings of Augustus John based on a drawing of a child by Andrea Schiavone.  Plying his trade at important London galleries, once exposed he admitted to having created numerous fake works of art, some of which he passed off as Rubens, Breughel, Castiglione, Corot, Mantegna, Piranesi, Schiavone, and even van Dyck.  

Many of the works Hebborn created came from the study of known, extant paintings from famous artists which he then recreated, passing his own art off as preparatory drawings for already known and renowned paintings and artists.  Making a healthy living with his artful deception, Hebborn was ultimately undone when the London art firm Colnaghi realized that the Pierpont Morgan “Cossa” they had purchased from him turned out to be identical to the National Gallery’s “Sperandio”.   With a little more digging it turned out that the “Sperandio” too was obtained from Hebborn. 

At the time of his death in 1996, the by-then-retired con man was considered to be one of the world's most prolific, as well as mouthy, art forgers in history.  Bold even in self-admitted guilt, he expressed no regret for his actions.  

As if to poke the art world in its pompous eye, Hebborn celebrated his prowess by penning Il Manuale del Falsario, an amusing memoir written in Italian shortly before his death.  The book, later translated into English, spelled out for readers, in minute detail, the ways in which he had created works of art forensically indistinguishable from the masterworks of previous centuries.

In describing the motivation for writing the book Hebborn wrote: 

"I wrote this practical manual to satisfy many people eager to learn an art that, apparently, arouses considerable interest: that of forging paintings and drawings. Not a week goes by without a letter or a phone call from someone asking advice on how to create "new ancient works" and it is natural that I cannot answer them all personally. If these pages satisfy the requests of those enthusiasts, I can say that I have achieved my goal". 

Posthumously Hebborn is seen by art crime experts as an artist who failed to gain their own notoriety and who faked art works to ridicule the art world's self-inflated connoisseurship. When first unmasked in 1978 Hebborn was sarcastically quoted as saying “how expert can these experts be if they can’t tell one of my drawings.” And throughout his brief lifetime he seemed to draw unadulterated pleasure at exposing art experts as wishful dunces.  


ARCA Founder Noah Charney, in his book The Art of Forgery: The Minds, Motives and Methods of the Master Forgers elaborates that Hebborn delved increasingly into forgery, possibly in revenge specifically against the storied Colnaghi Gallery, believing that the firm had intentionally cheated him by buying his artworks on the cheap only to turn around and sell them for substantially higher figures.  Failing to gain recognition as an artist in his own right, despite winning prizes as a student at the Royal Academy Schools, Hebborn went on to successfully falsify works of art for decades.  By the time his handiwork was finally noticed, he had reportedly created upwards of 1000 artworks in a range of styles and periods from Giovanni Castiglione to David Hockney and sold his fabrications on through world-ranking galleries throughout the 1960s and 1970s. 

The Forger's Death

Image capture of Eric Hebborn from the documentary
Eric Hebborn - Portrait of a Master Forger
Hebborn lived in Italy for more than 30 years, first in the bucolic medieval hilltop village of Anticoli Corrado, to the east of Rome, and toward the end of his life in a loft apartment in Trastevere.  His love life was stormy and his latent alcoholism well known among those who loved and or befriended him. 

Prior to his death, acquaintances acknowledged that his excessive drinking had already lead to at least one blackout, where he is known to have fallen, striking his head hard on an iron table.  With all the tell-tale signs of a high-bottom drunk, Hebborn paid little heed to well-meaning doctors and friends who were worried about his health and his burgeoning alcoholism and who acknowledged with increasing concern, the red patches blotching his face, his poor hygiene and his unkempt beard and attire.

On the night of January 9, 1996 Hebborn reportedly visited a local enoteca near his home, one that he frequented regularly.  The painter sat for a while and is said to have drunk a few glasses of red wine as was often his practice as a regular patron at the establishment.  As he departed, reportedly between 8:30 and 9 pm, he told the proprietor "I'm going to dinner" before walking out into the cool winter's night.   Some say he was with someone that evening though no one has ever come forward to admit who this individual might have been or if this recollection was accurate or not. 

On that January night, the evening was enveloped with rain and in the semi-darkness and downpour, law enforcement hypothesize that the forger may have stumbled on the street or perhaps passed out, overcome by alcohol he had consumed.  Hebborn struck his head hard on the pavement not far from the bronze statue dedicated to the Roman poet Trilussa, which gives his name to the small piazza near where Hebborn was found, along the Tiber river. 

The forger was discovered lying in the rain just after midnight the following morning.  Scruffily dressed in clothing soaked with rainwater and smelling of alcohol and old sweat, he did not appear to have been assaulted in an attempted robbery as his wallet and credit cards were found on his person.  Suspecting him to be a simple drunken street tramp, he was hoisted up with only a cursory look and transported eventually to San Giacomo Hospital to sober up.  

There Hebborn died from internal bleeding without waking up and without a medical examination or treatment as medical staff appeared to have overlooked his fractured skull as his hair was wet from the puddles of rain he was found laying in. 

Eric Hebborn with one of the greatest loves of his life,
the pup Emma. 
Twenty plus years after his post-mortem examination, the forger's life, and the events surrounding his squalid death, which likely occurred simply due to the general indifference of a hospital in Rome, still creates serve as the cinematic backdrop to a sad, but infinitely intriguing, story. 

April 11, 2019

The "Portrait of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti," stolen 32 years ago from Palazzo Chigi, is finally home

Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo with Arch. Francesco Petrucci at Palazzo Chigi
On Wednesday, April 10th, in a formal restitution celebration, Lieutenant Angelo Giovanni Busciglio, Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo, and Deputy Brigadier Filippo Vassallo, of the Carabinieri Nucleus for the Protection of Cultural Heritage - Palermo, were honoured for their recovery efforts during a ceremony held at Palazzo Chigi, in the historic center of Ariccia.

Recovered Portrait if Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti, Palazzo Chigi - 10 April 2019
The unit was directly responsible for the discovery and return of an oil-on-canvas portrait depicting Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti (1649-1718), the wife of marchese Cesare Baldinotti, which once hung in the palace's stanza delle belle and had been stolen from the historic palazzo 32 years ago, along with 20 other works of art.  Portraiture of well bred ladies, those that made up the so-called galleria delle belle or cabinets des dames, were leitmotiv in the furnishing of noble residences during the seventeenth century.

Federico Fellini, immortalized next to
the portrait in Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle".
The painting is attributed to Jacob Ferdinand Voet, a Flemish portrait painter from the Baroque period who is known for his portraits. The artist had an international career, which brought him to both Italy and France where he made portraits for members of elite families and appears to be strikingly similar to another portrait of the Marchioness which likely helped with the unsigned artwork's attribution and identification.  After training in Paris, Voet spent time in Rome, then Florence, and lastly Turin before returning, first to Antwerp in 1684 and later in 1686, to Paris where he was called as a painter of the French court. The Marchioness was the daughter of Felice Angelo Ghezzi, the Duke of Carpignano and Baron Zullino. On April 17, 1667, she married the Marquis Cesare Baldinotti di Pistoia (1636-1728) who was the Duke of Pescorocchiano.

Matching portraits of Marta Ghezzi Baldinotti
The painting was located on the art market by Brigadier Chief Antonio Di Garbo of the Carabinieri del Nucleo Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (TPC) in Palermo in the sales inventory of an antiques dealer in Palermo.  During a series of investigative procedures, as well as a crosscheck of records within the Carabinieri Leonardo Stolen Art database, and with architect Francesco Petrucci, who is the conservator of works of art at Palazzo Chigi, the law enforcement officer's match was validated and the antiquarian questioned by the Carabinieri.   Giving an implausible answer as to how and where he had acquired the stolen painting and unable to substantiate a legitimate claim to the portrait, the painting was seized in the Autumn of 2018.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" then

During their investigations the Carabinieri squad in Sicily also identified a second individual from Marsala, who along with the antiquarian was referred to the Public Prosecutor's Office at the Court of Palermo where both have been denounced for receiving stolen goods.

Palazzo Chigi's "stanza delle belle" now

As a painter Voet was highly sought after and had numerous followers and imitators, many who copied his style of portraiture of well bred ladies.

April 6, 2019

Interview with Aubrey Catrone, ARCA's 2018 Program Assistant

By Edgar Tijhuis

In 2019, the ARCA program will be held from May 31 through August 15, 2019 in the heart of Umbria in Amelia, Italy. In the months up to the start of the program, a number of this years professors is as well as other staff of ARCA will interviewed. This time I speak with Aubrey Catrone, who served as ARCA's program assistant for the 2018 program.

Can you tell us something about your background?

Can you tell us something about your background? Growing up in Boston, in the shadow of the Isabella Stewart Gardner heist, I have always had a strong passion for the intersection of art, history, and crime. It is this enduring multidisciplinary approach to the art world that has helped shape my career and development as a provenance researcher. From an academic standpoint, I predominantly focused on the history of the Second World War, the French language, art crime, and art history. When I first attended the ARCA Postgraduate Program, it helped broaden my knowledge of the art market. It also further piqued my interest regarding the restitution of art looted in France during the Second World War. My MA in History of Art from University College London enabled me to explore my relationship with the history of art objects. In between what has undoubtedly been thousands of trips to the library, I have worked in art galleries and with art advisories, private collectors, non-profits, and academics. 

You have been ARCA's program assistant in the 2018. Can you tell us about your experiences in this role in Amelia?

Having stayed in Amelia as a participant and an alumna prior to this summer, working as the Program Assistant was definitely quite a shift in my experience with ARCA and Amelia in general. Serving as a critical point of contact for visitors, professors and students meant that I became far more acquainted with the city than I had been before. I can tell you the perfect route to take to get to where you need to go on festival days. I know which bar has the best WiFi. And, I’ve learned enough Italian to confidently travel throughout the countryside on my own. 

In anticipation of a summer in Italy, what do you recommend for participants to prepare for a summer of study in a small town? 

Patience. Amelia is an old city that enchants with its many charms but also infuriates you. Don’t panic when the internet cuts out and a project is due. In the fast-paced, electronically dominated society that we live in, remember to take a breath, smell the sunflowers, and enjoy the opportunity to unplug for a bit. Lynda Albertson, ARCA's CEO, also reminds participants that their largest retrievable databases are their professors as well as their fellow program participants. These sources can be accessed without the need for gigabyte data plans or modern technological accoutrements.

What makes the yearly ARCA PG Cert program unique? 

It is one of the only places in the world where postgraduate students of all ages can come to learn from and interact with world-renowned experts in the field of art crime and cultural heritage protection. Unlike programs in larger cities such as Rome, where teachers and students alike leave the classroom and go their separate ways, Amelia is small enough to bring everyone together on daily basis. Unlike large university settings, it’s a truly intimate environment where the experts are always accessible to share their knowledge and advice beyond the classroom, whether it's over coffee, dinner, or wine. It’s an enriching experience that endures beyond the summer months. 

Is it also possible to audit just one or two of the classes of the program? 

While each course can stand alone, the organisation of the summer program crescendos. For those looking for the full immersion experience, each course builds upon the next to create an in-depth understanding of art crime and cultural heritage protection. But, if someone has singular interests or goals, or less liberty to spend a full summer abroad, the opportunity to audit a single course can also provide unique benefits. 

While the participants always learn a lot in Amelia, what do you learn from them? 

With so many backgrounds and ages represented each year, everyone comes to Amelia with their own academic interests and cultural backgrounds. Over the summer months, Amelia becomes a melting pot for the sharing of ideas. I have heard stories ranging from archaeological digs in Syria, to the ofttimes unbelievable anecdotes of art detectives, to the way New Zealand smells in the summertime.

Which course in the program would you love to follow yourself and why? 

I’m always torn by this question. Marc Masurovsky’s work with provenance and Holocaust-era assets is something I am continually fascinated by and constantly starved to absorb. However, my summer schedule has yet to align with Christos Tsirogiannis’s course on illicit antiquities, a fascinating subject, and one I would be incredibly interested to incorporate into my research capabilities. 

What is your experience with the ARCA conference in June? 

The breadth of subject-matter covered over a single weekend by an international group of academics and experts is unprecedented. Speakers hail from the world’s most prestigious cultural heritage institutions while also including accomplished independent researchers. But, there is also time to enjoy the Italian countryside with organised dinners and cocktails, offering the opportunity to converse with colleagues in a relaxed social environment set against an Umbrian vista. 

Is there anything you can recommend for future students to do in Amelia or Umbria? 

I would always suggest that participants take advantage of the immersive experience. Become an Amerini (the name for the locals of Amelia). Hike through blooming sunflowers. Decorate the streets during Corpus Domini. Try as many local delicacies as your palette allows (affordable truffles and freshly made cheese are not easily attainable luxuries outside of Italy). Go on excursions. And, above all, be curious while you have the chance.

For a detailed prospectus and application materials or for general questions about this postgraduate program please contact us at education@artcrimeresearch.org

Edgar Tijhuis serves as the Academic Director at ARCA and is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana (Slovenia). He is responsible for the postgraduate certificate program in the study of art crime and cultural heritage protection and since 2009, has taught criminology modules within the ARCA program.

April 2, 2019

Beautiful April Fools Day pranks and still no sign of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi


Yesterday, it appears that the art and museum world ran amok with April Fools Day fake news on the whereabouts of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi.

Tongue-in-cheek April 1st reports claimed that the "missing" $450m painting is hanging in US President Trump's private quarters at the White House.   Another  reported that Abu Dhabi planned to trade the painting to neighboring emirate Qatar in exchange for Paris Saint Germain soccer player, footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, the Brazilian forward.   Neither of course are true.   While its location remains a mystery, the tale of the Salvator Mundi is a complicated one of power, intrigue, betrayal and seemingly immeasurable sums of money ARCA is continuing to follow the controversy surrounding the world's most expensive painting.


April 1, 2019

Two years later and no sign of the Lindauers?


Two years ago, on the morning of Saturday, 1 April 2017, a stolen Ford Courier utility vehicle drove up Parnell Road close to the city centre in Auckland, New Zealand between 3:30 and 4:00 am.  As it neared the International Art Centre, it then turned and reversed twice into a large plate glass window, at the front of the gallery.  Having smashed in the window, the driver of the Ford and a second suspect, who appeared on the scene at the same time driving a white 2016 Holden Commodore, entered the gallery through the broken window.

Image Credit: Auckland City Police
Wearing bandanas, black gloves and dark sweatshirts, the pair climbed through the broken window and snatched two iconic Māori portraits: one of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure and another of Chief Ngatai-Raure loading them into the back of the Holden Commodore.  The artworks, by 19th century Bohemian-born and Viennese-educated émigré artist Gottfried Lindauer, were meant to be the centerpieces of an upcoming auction.  Stolen in less than a minute, the paintings were valued at around NZ $350,000 - $450,000 each.

CCTV footage of thieves
Image Credit: Auckland City Police
The signed and dated oil on canvas portrait of Chief Ngatai-Raure was painted in 1884 and shows the Māori chief adorned with two Huia feathers and a pounamu earring holding a greenstone mere. The portrait of Chieftainess Ngatai – Raure, also painted in 1884 shows the Māori chieftainess wearing a cloak.  Her hair is adorned with two Huia feathers and wearing a hei-tiki necklace with one visible pounamu earring.

At the time of the brazen theft, art world figures expressed dismay at the loss, and characterised Lindauer’s works as “mesmerising and … a significant and critically important record of Maori culture.”  And while immediate and extensive publicity both in New Zealand and elsewhere ensured that a legitimate mainstream sale or disposal of the artworks was unlikely, two years one the two works of art remain missing. 

Any information on the thieves or the white 2016 Holden Commodore should be reported to Auckland City Police or anonymously via the New zealand Crimestoppers tip line: 0800 555 111.