Showing posts with label Munch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Munch. Show all posts

January 14, 2012

CBC Radio's "Day 6" Interviews ARCA Instructor Richard Ellis in "To catch an art thief" about the use of art as collateral or currency "in criminal enterprises such as drugs or arms or people trafficking"

Brent Bambury, host of the show Day 6 on CBC Radio, "talks" with art crime expert Richard Ellis, founder of the Art and Antiquities Squad at The New Scotland Yard.

Bambury begins his show discussing this week's theft of paintings by Picasso and Mondrian from the National Gallery in Athens when thieves prompted security guards to turn off their security system by setting off a series of alarms that made the guards think the system wasn't working and shut the alarm system down. As Bambury recounts, the thieves then entered the museum in Greece and stripped three paintings from their frames; "everything was going according to plan" Bambury says until one of the thieves set off a motion sensor attracting attention of the security staff who watched them flee. [Officially the number of thieves has not been released.) One of the paintings was recovered when a thief dropped it during the escape, according to international reports.

Bambury asks Ellis what happens after a thief pulls off a successful heist that draws international attention.
Ellis: In one particular Picasso theft the chap got into a taxi in London and drove around and delivered it to the person who had asked him to steal it, so it depends entirely who you are and what your intentions are. Looking at the Greek experience recently, it was a well orchestrated theft, so they may have well have gone beyond planning the actual theft and have already worked out what they could do with the pictures. 
Bambury: How does a thief monetize a painting? What is the value of something that is so very difficult to sell? 
Ellis: Value is established unfortunately through the media. I say unfortunately because there is a tendency of following an art theft to try and arrive at the highest possible value because it makes for a better story. Criminals will take the highest published value and they will work anywhere between 3 to 7 or even 10% of that reported value as its black market value. Clearly if it’s a valuable painting it can still be a significant sum of money and they’ll use that as collateral or as a form of currency and it will then just be used as a way to pay for other criminal enterprises such as drugs or arms or people trafficking. 
Bambury: So a painting then becomes a token of value in the larger world of organized crime? 
Ellis: Exactly that. Last year … in October I recovered two Picassos in Serbia that had been stolen in Switzerland in February 2007. Now what I learned from that experience is that art is actually being used as a currency because it is easier to travel across international borders carrying a painting than it is to travel across international borders carrying a lot of money. If you’ve got money on you, the authorities are alert to money laundering and you will be questioned and you will have to justify your possession of that money. With paintings, unfortunately a lot of law enforcement are not to so familiar with the art scene, they don’t have easy access to databases of stolen art and antiques. The chances are that the criminals will be able to travel across international boundaries with a stolen work of art.
In the discussion on Day 6, Mr. Ellis goes on to dispel the myth of “Dr. No” the evil art collector hiring thieves to steal art masterpieces for his personal enjoyment. He then describes the operation to recover Munch’s The Scream, which had been stolen from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994 while authorities were distracted with securing the opening day of the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. He also describes Canada’s role in the global market for stolen art.

When Bambury asks Ellis to speculate on the whereabouts of the two paintings recently stolen from the National Gallery in Greece, Ellis guesses that the "porous" borders of Greece with the Balkan countries may have provided an escape route to Montenegro or Serbia.

You can read a summary of the interview on CBC Radio’s website here “To catch an art thief” and listen here to the interview between Brent Bambury and Dick Ellis on the show “Day 6: Inside The World of International Art Theft.”

November 22, 2010

ARCA Lecturer Richard Ellis weighs in on recovery of stolen paintings from Malmö Art Museum

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Swedish police recovered three paintings that had not been reported stolen from the Malmö Art Museum last month during an investigation into a case concerning credit fraud in the taxi sector. The case was covered here in The Local, Sweden’s News in English. Mark Durney’s Art Theft Central urged police investigators to reveal how and why the paintings were in possession of individuals with ties to a credit card case in an article on October 7 . The ARCA blog sought additional insight on this case from one of its instructors, Richard Ellis, former Director of Scotland Yard’s Arts & Antiquities Unit.

“In my experience, unlicensed taxi services (sometimes referred to as mini-cabs) have frequently been involved in criminal groups, committing such crimes as burglary, fraud and local drug distribution,” Mr. Ellis wrote in an email this month. “I suspect that this was an unlicensed taxi service and therefore it is not a surprise that they were involved in credit card frauds.

“Professional criminals often operate in more than one area of crime and a lot of art recovered by police is found whilst investigating other crimes,” he continued.

Mr. Ellis cited the robbery at the National Gallery in Stockholm in 2000 when three masked and armed robbers walked into Stockholm’s National Museum and took a small self-portrait on copper by Rembrandt and two paintings by Renoir (“A Young Parisienne” and “Conversation”) and escaped in a boat, diverting police by setting cars on fire in nearby streets. Renoir’s “Conversation” was recovered one year later when Swedish police raided the place of known drug traffickers. In 2005, the other two paintings were recovered when police infiltrated a U. S.-based crime syndicate: Renoir’s “A Young Parisienne” was recovered in Los Angeles and Rembrandt’s self-portrait was recouped in Copenhagen. “In this case, the stolen art was used to fund other criminal activities,” Mr. Ellis wrote.

“In the current case, the painting by Munch was stolen because they recognized that in theory it would attract a high cash value,” Mr. Ellis continued in his email response to the ARCA blog. “However, whether they had the knowledge required to capitalize on this is not clear and it is this ability in knowing how to dispose of stolen art that sets an art thief apart from other criminals."

The Munch painting is worth around 10 million kroner ($1.5 million) and was found with two paintings by Gustaf Rydberg and Pär Siegaard. Munch's 1913 “Two friends”, which portrays two dogs and is thought to have been done when the Norwegian painter was living in Germany, is the Malmö Art Museum’s only work by the artist.

Founded in 1841, the Malmö Art Museum collection contains 32,000 works from the 16th century to the present. The museum building from 1937 is in the Malmöhus castle complex, one of the oldest remaining renaissance castles in Scandinavia.