Showing posts with label Rhino thefts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rhino thefts. Show all posts

November 13, 2012

Kunsthal Rotterdam Theft: Private art investigator Arthur Brand suspects Irish gang involved in rhino horn theft last year and last month's robbery


Matisse painting stolen last month from Kunsthal

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Dutch private art investigator Arthur Brand has a theory that ties two seemingly unrelated museum thefts together: the theft of the rhino horns from Rotterdam’s Natural History Museum and last months’ theft of paintings from the Kunsthal Rotterdam.

Mr. Brand, who described himself as “well informed about art thefts in Holland”, introduced himself via the Internet and told me that I could ask former Scotland Yard detective Charley Hill to vouch for his credibility (which Mr. Hill did via email).

In a conversation via Skype, Mr. Brand extended the dialogue begun last month on the ARCA blog by former Scotland Yard art detective Charley Hill in regards to the Kunsthal robbery:
Mr. Hill: My view is that this theft was particularly well organised, done quickly and in the almost certain knowledge that the thieves and what they stole would be long gone by the time the police arrived. Also, the thieves were apparently not opportunists such as the two with a ladder at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam some years ago who smashed a window and took the two pictures nearest the broken glass, nor were they Balkan bandits with machine pistols like the ones who hit the Munch Museum in 2004, or the Buhrle Collection in Zurich a few years ago.


The closest pattern I know is of Irish Traveller raids on art in the 1980s through 2010. The pattern in Rotterdam the night before last was closer to that. See the art crimes of The General as he called himself, Martin Cahill of Dublin. Interestingly, one of Cahill's gang, George Mitchell, known as The Penguin, lives close to Rotterdam where he works in commodities with his Colombian, Russian, Dutch, Brit, Irish and other friends. I wonder if he has a part to play in this? He could do something about getting those pictures back, I'm sure, if any good Dutch police officer not in his pay asked him for some help.
 This is Mr. Brand’s assessment:

George “The Penguin” Mitchell escaped to Holland in 1996 after the murder of Irish reporter Veronica Guerin.  Mitchell lived in Amsterdam and Rotterdam before moving to Morocco a couple of years ago.  He visits The Netherlands to see family and to do business (one of those businesses dealing in Indonesian antiquities).  I thought about what Charley Hill said about The Penguin’s involvement and made some inquiries in the underworld and learned that an Irish connection could very well be possible.

Mitchell, who once worked for the gang of art thief Martin Cahill, is said to know members of  the Rathkeale Rovers, a gang of Irish Travellers (gypsies) suspected of stealing rhino horns from a few dozen museums throughout Europe.  Rhino horns are valued for medicinal purposes in eastern Asia.  Thieves make millions with that but there is more to this group.

The Rathkeale Rovers were linked in 2005 to the theft of the Henry Moore sculpture stolen and melted down for bronze scrap metal.  Irish Travellers were suspected in the 2003 theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna of the Yarnwinder from Drumlanrig castle in Scotland.  Although the painting was recovered in 2007, the thieves who removed the painting from the home of the Duke of Buccleuch have never been caught.  In 2005, according to rumors and a source in the FBI, Irish Travellers planned to rob the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.  I have been told that George Mitchell was connected to Martin Cahill’s associate Martin Foley who is suspected of robbing the Russborough House in 2001 and 2002.

The Rathkeal Rovers were almost certainly at the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam on August 26, 2011 when three rhino horns were stolen.  If you look at this image of the Kunsthal, you can see a building to the left – about five to ten meters away from the art gallery.  This is the Natural History Museum.  If you look back from there, you can see right through the big glass windows of the Kunsthal and see the art displayed.  What I suspect and it’s backed up by a few rumors, the thieves stealing the rhino horns probably figured that this was too good to be true – that they were looking into the worst protected museum in the world.  If you smash a window you are in and you can take 100-200 million euros worth of paintings.  Why steal rhino horn for less than 20,000 euros when we can kick in the glass window and get 100 million?  The rumor in the criminal world is that the Rathkeale Rovers are behind the Kunsthal Rotterdam theft.  One year after rhino horns were stolen from a museum in Rotterdam, another theft occurs at the art gallery just five to ten meters away.  Nobody has brought these two events together even though the Irish Travellers and the Rathkeale Rovers have been linked to art thefts and they are well connected to the old Cahill group known as the world’s best art thieves.  They all know each other.  After the IRA murdered Cahill, part of his gang thought they should go to the Netherlands and Amsterdam is the best place to go if you still want to deal in drugs.  The best art thieves and Irish Travellers live in the Netherlands.  It was even more difficult to break into Natural History Museum than the Kunsthall – you can send in a girl of 10 to steal art from there.  I cannot confirm the rumor that it was an Irish job but I can logically connect the events –- there is only one group right now robbing museums.

Here's the link to an article by Jolande van der Graaf and Robbert Blokland published today in De Telegraf on the Kunsthal Rotterdam theft which we'll discuss in the next post. 

August 14, 2012

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - No comments

Theft of Rhino head from Haslemere Educational Museum: One Year Later, A Potential Resolution

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA's European Correspondent

One year ago, I wrote about a rash of rhino horn thefts that had museums jumping to attention and, in some cases, going into overdrive to protect what horns were in their collections. There was a particular case that I had highlighted concerning the theft of a rhino head on display at the Haslemere Educational Museum in Southwest Surrey.  Now, I am very glad to report, there is a possibility of some closure for this particular case.

After the theft, which occurred in May 2011, BBC Crimewatch put out an appeal for any information connected to this particular theft. Due to information given to the authorities, two men, Tony Moore and Jamie Channon, have been charged with conspiracy to burgle in conjunction with the Haslemere theft. Both men were caught earlier in the year and charged with repeated counts of burglary, including this theft, but due to failures to appear in court, their sentencing has been pushed back until this September. Unfortunately, the rhino head has not been recovered.

October 12, 2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - , No comments

A Dangerous Turn for Rhino Thefts

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Blog Contributor

Over the course of the summer, museums throughout Europe have been targeted by thieves in search of rhino horns. When I last wrote about this strange series of events in June, the theory that was floating around in the news was that the thieves were looking to make a profit on the black market, selling the horns off to people wanting ivory or the medicinal properties associated with these horns. Museums had been urged to take their horns off display and store them off-site to avoid being added to the growing list of those robbed.

Things have changed since then.

The Ipswich Museum has been added to the list of museums hit by the rhino horn thieves. As the Museum Journal reports, “According to law enforcement agency Europol, the recent spate of thefts is the work of an Irish gang.” The rhino horns are being sold for very large amounts of money to people looking to benefit from the medicinal properties which are rumored to include curing cancer and reversing the effects of a stroke. However, this may not be the case given the new steps that museums are taking to protect their collections: taxidermy heads and cast horns. The problem with taxidermy is that it involves arsenic and could taint the horns which could be harmful if they are digested.

Definitely not the cure for cancer that someone out there is looking for.

Ms. Hower, a former ARCA 2011 Intern, now studying Arts of Europe at Christie's Education in London, also blogs at The Wandering Scholar.

June 29, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 - , No comments

From Poaching to Theft: The Recent “Trend” of Rhino Horn Thefts in Europe

by Kirsten Hower, ARCA Blog Contributor

When thinking of museum thefts, what first comes to mind of what might be stolen? Painting, smaller sculptures, jewels, manuscripts—essentially pieces of cultural heritage that are both valuable and aesthetically pleasing. Sitting in the Fiddler’s Elbow in Florence last weekend, rhino horns certainly did not come to mind. Not until reading the Florence Newspaper that is.

In the past month rhino horns have been stolen from multiple museums in Europe. On May 27, a rhino head was stolen from the Haslemere Educational Museum in Surrey, England. It was the only item missing from the museum. The theft of a rhino horn was discovered at Bamberger’s Nature Museum in Germany, though the time of the theft is unknown. The Natural History Museum (La Specola) in Florence, Italy, had three rhino horns stolen from the collection on June 8, including one that was over a meter long.

It is believed that the horns have been stolen for the illicit attainment of ivory. This is certainly supported by the fact that some of the rhino heads that have been stolen have been recovered but without the horn. It seems that those in the illicit ivory trade have taken a step away from murdering living rhinos for their horns to robbing museums of their stock—meant to preserve what may not be left behind if poachers continue to kill off the rhino population. La Specola’s president, Giovanni Pratesi, is convinced that these horns are destined for the Asian market, which would sell them for medicinal uses and as aphrodisiacs.

Museums have been advised to take their rhino-related items out of display so as to not encourage further thefts. Surrey’s Haslemere Educational Museum has even posted a notice on their website:
Rhino Material Removed from Premises
Following the recent theft of a rhino head from display, the remaining rhino head has been removed from the premises and the museum will no longer store rhino material.
This recent rash of thefts has certainly put a dint in the display of rhino heads and horns in museums. Fortunately—and unfortunately—the same cannot be said for works of art that are susceptible to theft.

You may read more by Kirsten Hower on her blog, The Wandering Scholar.