Showing posts with label art theft arrests. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art theft arrests. Show all posts

February 16, 2017

Recovered: Here's lookin' at you kid. Stolen in Italy and found in Casablanca.

Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist
and Gregory Healer" (1639)
oil on canvas 293x184.5 cm

Stolen in Modena, Italy on August 10-11, 2014 from the Church of San Vincenzo, the painting "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer" by Guercino has been recovered in Morocco.*

At the time of the theft, if was believed that the art thief had hidden himself away inside the church until everyone had departed after the afternoon Sunday mass. The parish priest of San Vincenzo noticed something was afoot when he passed by the church the following morning and came across the primary door of the church open, with no signs of forced entry. This door was not equipped with an external mechanism for opening so either the thief waited inside after the mass had concluded or he had gained entry through a secondary door at the rear of the church.

When the theft was announced to the public Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi criticised the Curia's for its lack of security, especially in light of the numerous petty thefts which had plagued nearby churches in the city recently.  He estimated that the stolen painting, by the an Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, best known as Guercino, or Il Guercino, could be worth as much as five to six million euros, though he stated clearly that there was no market for stolen, easily identifiable religious works of art.  

Replica of "Madonna with Saints John the Evangelist and Gregory Healer"
inside the Church of San Vincenzo

The city of Modena and the church's priest and patrons were heartbroken. Not only had their painting been in the church since it was constructed, but the church itself stood near the city's courthouse, which is guarded round the clock. How was it that no one noticed anyone exiting the church with a painting under their arm?

This no one could say. 

Flash forward to February 2017 where three fences offer the historic painting to a wealthy businessman in Casablanca, Morocco for a cool 10 million dirhams (€940,000). Recognizing Guercino's masterpiece, the man declined and alerted the police judiciaire du Hay Hassani de Casablanca who then arrested the three suspects. One of the three, possibly the original thief, was a Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Italy for a considerable period of time.  

Here's lookin' at you police judiciaire du Hay Hassani. (**) Bogart, 'Casablanca'

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Update: * The procedure for restitution is now under way between the Moroccan authorities and the Italian Embassy in Morocco.

November 12, 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - ,, No comments

Ankara, Turkey: Anonymous caller breaks open case in art theft investigation at the State Art and Sculpture Museum

By Lynda Albertson, ARCA CEO

In August 2012 Hurriyet Daily News highlighted a report produced by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry that identified hundreds of works of art as missing from the State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara. Some of the works stolen were from highly valued Turkish artists such as Şevket Dağ, Şefik Bursalu, Zühtü Müridoğlu, and Hikmet Ona.  Experts and common citizens alike complained that the museum, like many in many countries, did not have an adequate inventory system in place.  This vulnerability, it was partially reasoned, worked in the thieves favor when they switched the original paintings with inferior fake ones. 
Image Rights: Ankara Scribbler

At the time the thefts were announced Hurriyet stated "A recent report by the ministry, which was later shelved away from public view to avoid a possible backlash, claims that 46 pieces from the museum's catalog were stolen and replaced with fake replicas........The authenticity of 30 more art works is also "highly suspicious," according to the report."

When the thefts were discovered the Culture Ministry was forced to examine 5,000 works of art in the collection.  Their findings indicated that a total of 302 objects were stolen, elaborating that 256 of the paintings/objects were listed as completely missing and 46 as having been replaced with forged replica, including 13 charcoal sketches by Hacı Ali Rıza.

Turkish news sites today report that arrests have been made as a result of an anonymous caller who spoke directly with the Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay, breaking open the Ankara art theft investigation and leading to the arrest of three of 18 tentative suspects involved in the case.

Hurriyet Daily News reported that "those arrested are the alleged leader of the gang Ahmet Sarı, the security official of the museum Veli Topal, and antique dealer Mete Aktuna"

The news site went on to add that the thefts and forgery involve an organized network of criminals who lifted works of art from the museum primarily between 2005 and 2009 selling them through middlemen and fine art dealers, sometimes even in auction houses to unsuspecting buyers.

Hurriyet reported that “The female deputy director of the museum proposed Sarı to sell the original works in the museum’s depot. One included Hikmet Onat’s oil painting. Sarı sold it to an antique dealer in Nişantaşı for $210,000 and the antique dealer sold it to a famous businessman for $350,000. The painting is still in his collection. Another painting by Vecihi Bereketoğlu was also sold to an auctioneer and the auctioneer sold it to the son of a famous businessman,” According to the anonymous informant the crime syndicate stole the paintings and works of art from the museum between 2005 and 2009.

Dunya Bulteni, a Turkish language news site reports that the during the enterprise two oil paintings were sold for 10 thousand (currency not indicated) as well as numerous other museums objects, including one for 210 thousand dollars."
 
The fact that this group of criminals were able to operate so freely and for so long within Turkish borders and within the legitimate art market without detection reflects the country's heritage vulnerability as a trafficking conduit not just for its own works of art but also for objects originating from nearby nations such as Syria and Iraq where trafficking and looting have been reported. 

The Republic of Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself has stated  

"Terrorism in contemporary terms needs a strong financial support, high tech weapons and an expensive organization. There is no doubt that today’s terrorists are better financed and better utilize the financial institutions than before. There is a close connection between terrorism and organized crime. Illicit sources such as narcotics and human trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering or extortion are major revenue sources for terrorist groups. However, it is a well known fact that terrorist organizations resort beside illegal means to legal means to finance their criminal activities. Now, it has become clear that legal businesses and charitable organizations can also be utilized by terrorists for funding their activities."



September 12, 2013

Dick Ellis, ARCA Lecturer and founder of Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad, on arrests of travellers for thefts of museums and auction houses

Dick Ellis, ARCA Lecturer, formerly of Scotland Yard
When media reports announced that police had arrested suspects for a series of art-related thefts, ARCA blog turned to Richard Ellis, ARCA Lecturer and founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiquity Squad, for his perspective: 
The arrest of two men in Essex was a part of a joint police operation which saw a total of 17 men and 2 women arrested across the UK and Ireland, following a series of thefts at museums and auction houses in which ancient Chinese objects, Rhino horns and other works of art and antiques valued in excess of £20 million were stolen during the course of 2012. 
Police from 26 forces including An Garda Siochana in Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and members of the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) raided houses and traveller camps in London, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Sussex, The West Midlands, Nottingham, Belfast, Cork and in Rathkeale near Limerick, the home of the Irish Traveller community. 
They are reported to have seized a large amount of unspecified property although it is not known whether this includes any of the rare Chinese jade carvings stolen from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge for which crime, four people were convicted earlier this year including a 15 year old boy. All were from the traveller community, members of whom have been responsible for a series of the major art and antique robberies committed in the UK in recent years. 
Not for the first time, the UK police were forced to create a cross border task force to investigate a series of crimes committed by travellers against public and private collections of art and antiques. The crimes themselves demonstrate how criminals follow trends in various markets, including the art market, and the explosion in value of Chinese artefacts following the re-emergence of the Chinese art market did not go unnoticed. Likewise, the high prices offered for Rhino horn in the Far East attracted the attention of criminals who realised that it was easier and safer to steal the horns from exhibits in museums rather than poach the horns from live animals in Africa. 
Travellers have been arrested in a number of European countries in connection with the theft of horns from museums, and Austria was recently seeking the extradition of one leading Traveller from Rathkeale. The scale of these crimes resulted in many institutions replacing the horns with replicas to discourage thefts, however in the case of the Norwich museum in Norfolk, the birthplace of Admiral Lord Nelson, when the burglars were unable to steal the Rhino horn they turned their attentions to other exhibits and stole some Nelsonian objects including a mourning ring worn by a member of Nelson's family following his death at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. 
These crimes and how they and other art thefts are inspired by art market trends will be discussed in detail at the "Art Crime" Seminar to be held in Dallas Texas between the 14th - 18th October 2013 at the SMU Meadows School of the Arts at which I and former FBI Special Agent Virginia Curry will be talking. For further information about this course contact Abigail Smith at 214 768 3425 or abigails@smu.edu or visit http://mcs.smu.edu/calender/event/world-art-and-fine-art-crime.

January 22, 2013

Organized crime unit of Romanian police arrest three men for Kunsthal Rotterdam theft; no paintings found

Romanian police arrest three men suspected of robbing
Kunsthal Rotterdam last October.
Today DutchNews.nl in its post "Three arrested for Kunsthal art theft in Romania, say local media"cited Nos Television as the source of the information.

The photo to the left is from the online Romanian news service Adevarul.

On the Dutch television channel, Nos cites a Rotterdam police twitter for the information that none of the paintings stolen from a temporary exhibit on October 16 were recovered.  Nos cites Romania's antena3.ro for information that the suspects have been arrested and will be held for 30 days in police custody while the investigation proceeds.  According to the report out of Romania, the police on the case specialize in combatting Organized Crime and Terrorism.

Martijn van der Starre and Irina Savu for Bloomberg News quote police spokesman Roland Ekkers that none of the stolen paintings by Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Gauguin or Lucian Freud were found.  A Bucharest court issued the arrest warrant.
Kunsthal Rotterdam

According to Robin Van Daalen for The Wall Street Journal online (Three Arrested Over Dutch Art Theft), a Romanian police spokeswoman said 'that officers had "carried out multiple activities" at the request of organized-crime prosecutors and that the operations were continuing'.

BBC News covered the theft under Rotterdam Dutch art thefts lead to Romanian arrests.

You can read previous ARCA blog posts about this theft here regarding the theft; the press conference; expert opinions; questions the day after the theft; available information about the owner of the paintings, the Triton Foundation; discussion with former Scotland Yard art detective Charley Hill; discussion with security consultant Ton Cremers; case progress reported by Rotterdam-Rijnmond police; speculation that flipper method opened back door; AP's press conference video (excerpt); Dutch news reporting theft (video); theft shown on surveillance video; the question of fire alarmed doors; former FBI agent Virginia Curry on fire and safety; "overvaluation" of stolen paintings; private art investigator Arthur Brand on last year's rhino theft adjacent to Kunsthal and Irish organized thieves; and Brand on messenger bag used in theft.


January 9, 2013

Gundlach art theft: Six people charged with first-degree residential burglary, conspiracy and receiving stolen property three months after artworks recovered

One man has been accused of breaking into the private residence of financier Jeffrey Gundlach in Santa Monica, California, last September to steal 13 artworks by artists such as Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, and Joseph Cornell.  Hours later, the thief allegedly returned to take Gundlach's Porsche at the request of the manager of a Pasadena car & stereo shop where the paintings had been stashed.  It's about a 70-mile roundtrip between the site of the theft and the hiding place for the artwork.  Prosecutors also charge that the thief's mother and two brothers helped to conceal and sell the stolen paintings.  A sixth person is accused of receiving the stolen items.

This is the press release issued by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office issued on January 4, 2013:
LOS ANGELES – Six people are awaiting arraignment this afternoon in connection with the $3.2 million theft of paintings, wine, jewelry and a car from financier Jeffrey Gundlach in September, the District Attorney’s Office announced. 
Darren Agee Merager, 43, allegedly broke into Gundlach’s Santa Monica home between Sept. 12 and Sept. 13, 2012, and stole valuable art work, jewelry and wine, said Deputy District Attorney Alva Lin with the Airport Branch office. Merager then allegedly returned hours later and stole Gundlach’s Porsche at the behest of Jay Jeffrey Nieto, 45. 
Nieto allegedly helped conceal the stolen art and other items at his Pasadena store. Pasadena police, who received a tip, and the Santa Monica Police Department investigated the case. 
Charged as co-conspirators are Merager’s 68-year-old mother, Brenda Joyce Merager, and two brothers, 29-year-old Wanis George Wahba and his 26-year-old brother, Ely George Wahba. The three allegedly tried to sell and conceal the stolen items. In addition, Wilmer Bolosan Cadiz, 40, is charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen items. 
The six, who are charged in case SA082879 with multiple counts, including first-degree residential burglary, conspiracy and receiving stolen property, are scheduled to be arraigned at the Los Angeles Superior Court, Airport Branch, in Department 144. 
Prosecutors will ask that bail be set at $10 million for each defendant. 
Merager, who has multiple prior convictions, is facing more than nine years in state prison if convicted.
Here's a few links to earlier coverage on this blog regarding the theft and the recovery of Gundlach's stolen art.

Here in the Beverly Hills Weekly last February is a notice that Merager was arrested on January 25, 2012 for receiving "known stolen property"; and here is a notice in the Laguna Beach Independent that Merager was arrested on May 17 for a Beverly Hills warrant for stolen property and that bail had been set at $500,000.  Merager, who's residence was identified as Lake Havasu (Arizona), travels extended from Los Angeles to Orange County.

November 8, 2012

Palais Fesch Art Theft Update: Security guard and bartender sentenced to four and two years, respectively

Palais Fesch in Adjaccio, Corsica
On October 26, 2012, two men received prison sentences of two and for years for stealing four paintings from the Palais Fesch in Corsica on February 19, 2011.

Antoine Mocellini, one of the security guards at the museum,  confessed to police that he had taken the Italian paintings as leverage in improving his living quarters, but then lost the paintings before he could return them (see blog post here).  In May 2012, the paintings were recovered in a car at a parking lot north of Adjaccio (see blog post here).

The online publication Le Journal de Arts reported last week that Mocellini was sentenced to five years in prison with one year suspended and prohibited from practicing his profession for another five years.  Mocellini's alleged accomplice, bar manager Christian Andarelli, suspected of having transported the paintings, was sentenced to two years in prison.