Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label museum theft. Show all posts

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

March 30, 2019

To celebrate Van Gogh's birthday, we again highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years.


Today is Van Gogh’s 166th birthday.

To celebrate his importance, we highlight his works of art which have been stolen over the years. Some of these remain missing.

When opportunity has knocked, art thieves have often had a preference for works of art attributed to Vincent Van Gogh.   But just how many artworks by Vincent van Gogh have been stolen? 

In Van Gogh's lifetime, he only sold one painting, The Red Vineyard, despite the fact that his works  have long commanded substantial figures in the contemporary art world. Nine of his masterpieces are ranked among the world's 50 most expensive works of art ever sold.    

Echoing that, the wave pattern of art theft often mirrors the whimsy of the art market. And when that happens,  thieves often follow the path of least protection or resistance and strike at objects the know to be of value taking into consideration the places that allow for the opportunity.

Taking a look inside ARCA's list of art crimes involving the artist Vincent Van Gogh and by our count, 36 Van Gogh works of art have been stolen, 3 of them two times each, over the course of 14 separate art thefts.

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Stolen in 1937 - The Lovers: The Poet's Garden IV, 1888  is only known to the art world through an 1888 letter from Vincent Van Gogh to his brother, Theo. This artwork, likely an oil on canvas was completed the same year the letter was sent and may have been stolen by the Nazis during World War II.  The only known image of this painting is based the small sketch the artist sent to his brother along with his letter.  This work of art has never been recovered. 

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June 4, 1977 - Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen from Cairo's Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum and later recovered only to then be stolen again in 2010. 

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February 17, 1975 – Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was one of 28 works of art stolen from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. The painting was recovered in an apartment registered to an alias in Milan on April 6, 1975.  It too was stolen a second time, just one month later. See the individual theft post here.

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May 15, 1975 - Van Gogh watercolour Breton Women (after Emile Bernard) also known as Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven was stolen for a second time along with 37 other Impressionist and Post Impressionist works of art from the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Milan, Italy. This follow-up theft included many of same artworks previously taken during the February 17, 1975 theft. The Van Gogh was recovered on November 2, 1975 in what was then West Germany along with ten other stolen artworks taken during the second the Galleria d'Arte Moderna theft. See the individual theft post here.

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May 20, 1988 - Three paintings Vase with Carnations (1886) by Vincent Van Gogh, La maison du maître Adam Billaud à Nevers (The House of Master Adam Billaud at Nevers) painted in 1874 by Johan Barthold Jongkind and Bouteilles et pêches (Bottles and peaches) painted in 1890 by Paul Cézanne were stolen from the Stedelijk Museum, next door to the Van Gogh Museum on the Museumplein in Amsterdam.  All three works of art were recovered undamaged.  See the individual theft post here.

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December 12, 1988 -  Three Van Goghs worth an estimated €113 million euros were stolen from the The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo about 60 miles east of Amsterdam. The stolen works of art included the second of three painted sketches titled De aardappeleters, (the potato eaters) completed in 1885, as well as two other works Four Cut Sunflowers, (also known as Overblown Sunflowers from August-September), 1887 and Loom with Weaver,1884.  All three paintings were recovered but had sustained damages.  See the individual theft post here.

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June 28, 1990 - Three early Van Gogh paintings, Digging farmer, 1885-87, Brabant Peasant, seated, 1884-1885, and Wheels of the Water Mill in Gennep were stolen from the Het Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch, Netherlands. The Digging Farmer was found in 1991 in a bank safe in Belgium. The other two paintings were returned in 1994 via negotiations with a tertiary party.  See the individual theft post here.

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April 14, 1991 - 20 paintings by Vincent van Gogh were stolen from the Vincent Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. All 20 paintings were recovered within 24 hours. Three of the 20 paintings were severely damaged. Four perpetrators, including one museum guard and a former employee of the museum's security firm were arrested in July 1991.  See the entire list of artworks and the individual theft post here.

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May 19, 1998  -  The prestigious Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome was robbed by three armed with guns shortly before closing time. The criminals stole two paintings by Vincent Van Gogh's L'Arlésienne, 1889 and Le Jardinier, October 1889 and Paul Cézanne's Cabanon de Jourdan, 1906.  On July 5, 1998 eight suspects were arrested and all three paintings were recovered.   See the individual theft post here.

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May 13-15, 1999 - The Vincent van Gogh painting, The Willow, was stolen from the headquarters of F. van Lanschot Bankiers NV in Den Bosch. The painting was recovered in 2006 following an undercover sting operation where two suspects were arrested. See the individual theft post here.

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December 7, 2002 - Two thieves using a ladder break in to the Van Gogh Museum making off with two paintings, View of the Sea at Scheveningen (1882) and Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen (1884). Following an intensive international investigation, two Dutchmen, Octave Durham, A.K.A. "The Monkey" and Henk Bieslijn were arrested in 2004 for their respective roles in the burglary. Durham received a prison sentence of 4.5 years. Henk Bieslijn was sentenced to 4 years incarceration. Each of the culprits were ordered to pay the Van Gogh Museum €350,000 in damages and both denied responsibility.  The paintings remained lost for 14 years only to resurface in late September 2016 in the Castellammare di Stabia area in the Bay of Naples. During a blitz by Italian law enforcement on members of an illicit cocaine trafficking ring operated by  a splinter group of the Naples Camorra, the paintings were recovered and are now safely back at the artist's museum in Amsterdam.  See individual theft post here. 

April 26, 2003 - Three paintings including Van Gogh's The Fortification of Paris with Houses, Picasso's Poverty and Gauguin's Tahitian Landscape were taken from The Whitworth Art Gallery at The University of Manchester. The works of art were found the next day crammed into a tube behind a public toilet in Manchester's Whitworth Park. See the individual theft post here.

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February 10, 2008 - Four paintings were stolen at gunpoint from a private Zürich gallery run by the Foundation E.G. Bührle in Switzerland. The paintings were Blossoming Chestnut Branches by Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat, Claude Monet's Poppies near Vétheuil and Edgar Degas' Count Lepic and His Daughters.  The Van Gogh and Monet were recovered on February 18, 2008.  The Degas was recovered in April 2012 and Cezanne's Boy in the Red Waistcoat was recovered April 12, 2012.  See the individual theft post here.

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August 21, 2010Poppy Flowers (also known as Vase And Flowers and Vase with Viscaria) 1887 was stolen for the second time from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo.  Its current whereabouts are still unknown. 

November 18, 2018

Recovered? Anonymous tip may have lead to Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin" stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam in 2012.


On October 16, 2012 Dutch police confirmed that seven paintings had been stolen, shortly after 3 a.m. local time, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.  The paintings which were taken, Pablo Picasso's Tete d'Arlequin, Henri Matisse's La Liseuse en Blanc et Jaune and Waterloo Bridge, London,  Claude Monet's Charing Cross, London, Paul Gauguin's Femme Devant une Fenêtre Ouverte, dite La Fiancée, Jacob Meyer de Haan's Autoportrait, and Lucian Freud's Woman with Eyes Closed were estimated to be worth millions.  

The stolen art works were part of the museum's Avant Guard Exhibition, which highlighted material on loan from the private Triton Foundation collection. Built over twenty years, by Rotterdam oil and shipping magnate Willem Cordia and his wife Marijke van der Laan, the exhibition, was set to run from 7 October 2012 until 20 January 2013, and was the first time any artwork from the Triton Collection had been exhibited publicly. 

The Triton body of artworks is made up of approximately 250 paintings, drawings and pieces of sculpture belonging to art movements from 1870 through 1970.  The collection includes works by many by the most influential 19th and 20th century artists in the tradition of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Analytical Cubism.  At the time of the theft, the collection was reputed to be one of the 200 most important private collections in the world.  

Shortly after the theft, and as the law enforcement investigation progressed, formal charges were brought against a group of suspects of Romanian origin.   Charges against Radu Dogaru, the ringleader who was found to have orchestrated the heist, his mother, Olga, Eugen Darie and Adrian Procop were all eventually brought.  Around the globe, their trials were closely watched in the hopes that the defendants might shed some light during their testimony on whether or not the seven paintings and drawings remained safe.  Early in the investigation Mr. Dogaru’s mother claimed to have torched the artworks, in order to dispose of the evidence which could be used against her son.

Despite recanting her statement later, experts from Romania's Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României (National History Museum of Romania - MNIR) provided testimony that seemingly validated Olga Dogaru's grim confession.  Ash and remains analyzed from a stove in her home in the village of Carcaliu in eastern Romania included nails from frames used before the end of the 19th century.  Yet, as pointed out by Maria Vasii, one of the attorney's for the defendants, the only painting with canvas tacks was the one by Lucian Freud.  As that artwork was completed in the year 2000, the nails would not have been made of copper and could not possibly have come from a 19th or 20th century production. Vasii also pointed out that the other paintings which were stolen were canvas glued onto cardboard and had no nails whatsoever. 

Despite the questions remaining as to what had actually become of the stolen artworks, Radu Dogaru and Eugen Darie, pled guilty for their roles in the theft on October 22, 2013. As a result of their confessions, the Third District Court of Romania sentenced Dogaru to 6 years and Eugen Darie to 5 years and 4 months (following sentencing appeals) for their involvement in the crime and for membership in a criminal organisation. 

Alexandru Mihai Bitu also received a sentence - two years for handling stolen goods. Adrian Procop, arrested in Manchester, England and extradited to Bucharest, was sentenced to prison for four years and 10 months for the formation of an organized criminal group and to four years and eight months for theft. Some of his prison time was reduced as the punishments were slated to run concurrently.  

Petre Condrat, involved in trying to find a buyer for the Matisse and the Gauguin, was fined 45,000 Romanian lei, the equivalent of approximately €9642. Dogaru's mother, Olga, was sentenced to two years in prison, convicted of aiding criminal behavior.

Interestingly, during Radu Dogaru's trial he gave a deposition that contradicted his mother's earlier confession to burning the paintings and told the court that his mother made false statements about incinerating the art works under pressure by interrogators. It was believed at the time that Radu may have been motivated by the hope that, along with her recanted testimony, his testimony might help his mother avoid a prison sentence.  

Now, six years later, an anonymous letter has been received by a Dutch writer of Romanian origin, Mira Feticu, the contents of which reportedly stated where one of the seven stolen works of art might be found.

But has the stolen Picasso really been spared the fiery furnace? 

Painted the year before the artist's death, Picasso's Head of a Harlequin (1971) is an art work done in pen and brush in black ink, colored pencil and pastel on thick brown wove paper.  It measures 38 x 29 cm and is "signed and dated in the lower right corner "Picasso/12.1./71". It was purchased by the Triton Foundation in 2009.

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
Mira Feticu has told reporters that the letter was sent to her at her Hague address because she wrote a book in 2015 about the Kunsthal theft which was also translated into Romanian.  Following the indications spelled out in a few short sentences of Romanian, Feticu and Frank Westerman have stated that they used the letter to guide them to Tulcea County, Romania.  There, they report they were able to identify the spot underneath a tree where the writer of the letter had indicated the missing Picasso could be found. 

Clearing away snow and leaves, the pair told law enforcement that they found the fragile artwork wrapped in plastic.   Photographing it in the car, they then turned the artwork over to the Dutch Embassy in Bucharest. Westerman has since posted video footage of law enforcement authorities examining the work of art on his Facebook page. 

Image Credit: Facebook user Mira Feticu
For now, a team of DIICOT prosecutors and police officers of the Criminal Investigation Directorate - IGPR will conduct a follow up investigation.  To determine if the drawing is authentic, or part of an elaborate hoax, it has been sent to the National Museum of Art of Romania located in the Royal Palace Bucharest.  There art historians will work to assist in determining or negating the artwork's authenticity.  

Insured against losses, in September 2013 the Triton Foundation received a $24 million payout for the theft of their seven artworks from their insurance underwriter, Lloyd's of London.  In doing so, the foundation has relinquished the titles to each of the seven stolen works of art, should any of them ever be recovered.  This means, if this "Picasso" is authenticated, (and that's a pretty big if), the insurance firm would be the rightful owner.

Me, I have my doubts.  


Straightening the image presented by Feticu taken in the car, and then comparing it side by side with the original stolen artwork I see numerous points of difference in addition to many color variations. A few of these I have redlined.  I am not an authenticator, nor am I an expert on Picasso's work, or the degradation of paper drawings over time, but to me, it doesn't seem to be the original, as much as it would make me happy if it were.

UPDATE:

Theater makers Yves Degryse and Bart Baele have admitted that the found "Picasso" in Romania is a hoax, part of a publicity stunt for their performance True Copy, which premiered last week. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 11, 2018

Recovery: Gold Objects stolen from the Nizam Museum

Image Credit: Hyderabad Police

Holding a press conference in Hyderabad, authorities announced that the  gold tiffin box, saucer, cup & spoon stolen from Nizam Museum on September 3rd have been recovered by Hyderabad Police. The two accused, Mohammed Gaus Pasha (23) and a relative Mohammed Mubeen (24) from the Himayat Sagar area of ​​the city have been arrested.

The pair of thieves had accessed the museum by dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill and then dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  

For full details on the theft please see ARCA's earlier blog post here. 

September 6, 2018

Museum Theft Update: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Eight months into the investigation, Italian news sites have begun reporting more details on the band of thieves believed to be behind the theft of part of the jewellry collection of Qatar's Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani. The jewels were stolen from an alcove just off of the Sala della Scrutinio at the Palazzo Ducale during a brazen, broad daylight, robbery from the "Treasures of Mughals and Maharajas" exhibition on January 3rd.

Reconstructing the events surrounding the 10 am theft on the final day of the exhibition authorities have apparently discussed their hypothesis with one or more members of the Italian press. 
According to a report first published on Twitter by Mediaset Journalist Clemente Mimun, it is believed that the thieves may be members of a Croatian and Serbian criminal network which specialized in high value thefts, known to have commited other offenses in Italy and other countries.  No information is given in Mediaset's formal article several hours after Mimun's tweet, nor in La Repubblica's subsequent article as to why authorities believe the squad is made up of Serb and Croat nationals or indicating what information aside from general speculation would lead to this assumption.


During the January 3, 2018 incident, two thieves, one serving as lookout, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie, and a second serving as principal actor, took a remarkable 20 seconds to open, then pocket a pair of teardrop diamond earrings and a heavy brooch made up of diamonds, rubies, gold, and platinum.


Given that the display case and its alarm failed to activate or activate in a timely manner when the glass case was breached, it is reasonable to assume that the pair of thieves might have had insider help.  Perhaps from someone either connected to the museum with knowledge of or access to the exhibitions alarm systems as they were expressly installed for this specific exhibit and in normal circumstances would have been expected to sound an alarm as soon as the display case was opened which would allow time for the perimeter to have been sealed.

Gone in a Bling

In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen at first viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals, one of whom is believed to have served as a lookout.


Once the room clears of potential witnesses, the thief, working quickly and discreetly, but in full view of the CCTV camera, opens the glass door on the case and pockets the jewellry in the pocket of his jacket.  Afterwards the pair calmly blend back in with the rest of the museum's patrons, and casually exit the Doge's Palace before security has time to apprehend them. 

Given that the security for this event was specifically requested and installed as a condition of the exhibition of the Sheik's jewels, it is reasonable to believe that the culprits were practiced experts, perhaps those who also had advance knowledge of the Doge's security routine, and the timing it would take for security to react to their breach.

Whether or not Mediaset was referring to a network of jewel thieves known as "The Pink Panthers", an elusive gang of jewel thieves which is believed to have members from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina is unclear. This sometimes violent network of jewel thieves are believed to be responsible for more than 200 high value robberies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.  For fifteen years this network of Balkan jewel thieves have committed audacious heists, sometimes by violent means as depicted in the real-life surveillance footage shown in the documentary “Smash and Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers.” 


As in the Venice heist Pink Panther thefts usually involve prior preparation and advanced skill, often casting nondescript individuals to case locations of potential robberies prior to their execution.  In one particularly dramatic theft on May 19, 2003 at Graff on New Bond Street in London a member of the group was able to make off with more than thirty million dollars’ worth of diamonds at in less than three minutes.

Whether or not the Doge's Palace Museum theft is related to the Pink Panthers is unclear, but should they be, they will likely benefit from the inventive perpetrators uncanny ability to fence traceable high-end goods. In the past law enforcement authorities have indicated that the Panther network consisted of between twenty and thirty experienced thieves at any given time, with facilitators in various cities providing logistical assistance.   Often, stolen diamonds end up in Antwerp as well as among the collections of indifferent clients in wealthy countries like Italy, France, Russia and Switzerland.



September 5, 2018

Museum Theft: Nizam Museum (HEH Nizam's Museum) Hyderabad, India


According to local authorities, thieves broke into the Nizam Museum housed on the first floor of the Purani Haveli palace located in Hyderabad, Telangana, India sometime on the evening of Sunday, September 2, 2018.  The palace, located just a few kilometers away from Chowmahalla Palace, is also home to a library and the Mukarram Jah Technical Institute.

In the past the palace was once the official residence of the Nizam, the last of whom ruled over the region from 1911 to 1948, when Hyderabad State was annexed by India.  The museum showcases many gifts that the 7th and last Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII received on his silver jubilee in 1936.  The museum  has been privately run by the Nizam’s Jubilee Pavillion Trust, and managed by descendants of the Nizam since the year 2000.  It houses approximately 450 objects in its collection.

Dislodging a four-feet wide ventilation grill, the burglar or burglars appear to have worked as a coordinated pair, dropping some 20 feet down into the exhibition gallery.  


Once inside one of the culprits broke into a non alarmed exhibition case and removed a three-tier diamond-studded gold tiffin box with trays carved with flora and fauna, as well as a golden tea cup and saucer embedded with ruby and emeralds, a spoon and a tray which once belonged to the 7th Nizam. Tiffins (or dhabbas) are traditionally round metal lunch containers with three or four stacking compartments used for serving traditional homemade thali lunches which feature bread, pickles, spicy curries, and sometimes desserts.


Once the goods were in hand, the thief was then hoisted back up and out of the same way he entered before making their getaway.



The loss was discovered the following morning by the museum's personnel who discovered the broken locks and empty showcase and then alerted the police.


CCTV Footage of suspected burglers

Journalists in India report that workers at the museum have been asking for security upgrades for quite some time.   Initial thoughts on the theft are leaning towards someone familiar with its limited security as one of the limited number of museum CCTV cameras had been tilted in such a way as to limit the image capture of the burgler(s). 

July 22, 2018

Organised crime, museum theft and bank robbery


On Wednesday the Berlin public prosecutor's office and the state criminal police provisionally seized 77 properties, including apartments, houses and land belonging to members of the "Lebanese" Kurdish extended family "Remmo" worth an estimated 9.3 million euros.  These seizures were based on evidence that the properties was likely purchased with proceeds from crime using new rules under the German Criminal Code (StGB) and Criminal Procedural Order (StPO) enacted 1 July 2017.  Modelled after Italy's own organised crime laws on property seizure,  where the state may order the seizure of property that a person of interest is able to dispose of when the value of the property is disproportionate to the person’s declared income or economic activity, Germany's new law regulates the recovery of criminal proceeds and serves to effectively confiscate illegal proceeds from offenders or third beneficiaries who can be tied to proceeds from criminal transactions.  

This is the same organised crime family, one of the grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent, who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, and who were written about previously on this blog in relation to their involvement in the eye-popping March 2017 theft of a 100-kilogram gold coin stolen from the Münzkabinett (coin cabinet) at the Bode Museum in Berlin.

One year ago, in July of 2017 police arrested three members of this Mhallamiye kurdish family, Abdul, Ahmed, and Wissam Remmo, each on suspicion of involvement in the museum theft along with a fourth suspect, an employee of the Bode museum who held a subcontracting job as a supervisor.  The Big Maple Leaf coin, made of 99.999 percent pure gold, was (once) the largest coin ever to have been minted.  Unfortunately, the object has never been recovered and likely has been melted down and its proceeds used by other criminal accomplices.

Authorities began looking more closely into the transactions of the Remmo clan in 2014, when members of the clan were tied to involvement in a spectacularly violent bank heist in the outskirts of Berlin.  During that robbery heavily armed gunmen with sub-machine guns rounded up and threatened bank employees and cleaning staff before making off with €8 million in valuables from the suburban bank's safety deposit boxes.  Using DNA found at the crime scene, Toufic Remmo, 33, was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in the offence.  

During the current investigation, financial investigators of the State Criminal Police Office searched 13 locations in Berlin and Brandenburg tied to 16 members of the Remmo clan allegedly believed to have ties to proceeds from ongoing criminal activity. According to state officials members of the clan have been involved in drug-dealing, extortion, theft and robberies to acquire income-earning real estate for the family group. 

According to the Berlin police, 14 of the 68 major investigations into organised crime in the city in 2017 involved members of ethnic family crime groups like the Remmos which are difficult to penetrate given the closed familial structures of the clans.

By:  Lynda Albertson

May 12, 2018

Museum Theft: Whatcom Museum

Ninety miles north of Seattle and twenty-one miles south of the Canadian border, Bellingham Police are investigating a theft from the Whatcom Museum's recently designed Lightcatcher building.
Image Credit:  Birmingham Police

While police have not indicated what was stolen, the theft occurred on May 3rd and involved an object valued at $15,000.  Appealing to the public for help, law enforcement officers have asked if anyone can identify this person of interest, seen photographing what appears to be an object from the museum's Jeweled Objects of Desire exhibition. 

This exhibition, which ran from February 10th through May 6th, featured the jewelled luxury art of artist Sidney Mobell. Mobell may be best known for adding bling to mundane everyday objects including a gold mouse trap with a wedge of cheese set with pavé diamonds, a 14-karat gold sardine tin embellished with fifty-five Russian diamonds, a 24 karat gilded mailbox with a sapphire eagle as well as a freshwater pearl and gold wire-encrusted corncob by designer John Hatleberg.  

Persons with information about this individual should contact the Bellingham Washington Police by calling +1 360-778-8800 referencing case No. 18B-25214.

Summer Clowers, ARCA '13 

March 25, 2018

Museum Theft: Museo del Sannio - Benevento, Italy


Italian authorities have announced a theft from the Museo del Sannio in Benevento, Italy. The theft appears to have occurred around 2:00 am early Wednesday morning, March 22, 2018.  According to initial reports, an alarm activated, triggered by the opening of the emergency exit door overlooking Piazza Arechi, in front of the Conservatory but as no signs of burglary or break-in were found at the time of its sounding, the incident was misinterpreted as a false alarm. 

The museum detected the theft the following afternoon, when personnel, reviewing the miss-read false alarm,  discovered broken pottery fragments scattered on the ground in the vicinity of a museum storage area located in the building off Piazza Santa Sofia.  Perhaps spooked when the alarm sounded, the group of thieves left behind an already packed container, where they had placed other objects they intended to remove and in their hasty departure apparently knocked over and damaged more than a dozen other pieces stored in the same depot. 

The Head of the Museum Management of the Province of Benevento, Gabriella Gomma, has handed over a preliminary inventory of objects stolen to the State Police authorities in Benevento and a comprehensive list should be completed by Monday, April 26.  Initial reports indicate that some of the twenty vases already identified as missing include archaeological finds dating back to the Hellenistic period ( 323 - 31 BCE).  

March 2, 2018

Museum Theft: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza - Faenza, Italy

Vestibule, Maestro of Faenza Sec. XIII
Crucifixion and descent into limbo
panel painting, 35x28 cm.  + frame 15 cm., N. inv. 98
Image Credit: Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza
Discovered missing on Thursday morning, March 01, 2018, a small panel painting, dating back to the 1200s attributed to the Maestro of Faenza has been reported stolen from the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza.

The oldest Museum in Faenza, established in 1797, when the municipality purchased Giuseppe Zauli's art collection, the Pinacoteca's core collection centers on paintings and sculptures from the 13th to the 18th century. The stolen panel painting, attributed to the Maestro of Faenza, depicts two scenes, the crucifixion of Christ on the top portion of the panel and his descent into limbo on the bottom.  The framed panel had been on public display in the Hall of the Vestibule, where it was hung to the left of the Crocefisso del Maestro Francescano in Gallery 6. 

According to a televised report given by Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca, the theft was discovered during a morning walkthrough by personnel on Monday who discovered the empty frame and backboard mounting discarded in the gallery where the artwork had been hung.  


Given the panel painting's small size, the artwork may have been hidden under  the thief's winter clothing at some point during museum opening hours though the date of the theft itself still unclear. 


This is the third theft of sacred art in Italy to have occured in a one week period.  All three thefts have occured in the region of Emilia-Romagna. 

During an early morning religious service at the Chiesa del Suffragio in Rimini a thief or thieves stole the crown and veil of a Madonna, Our Lady of Sorrows,  a statue dating back to the 1700s from the Church’s main nave.  The theft apparently occurred while mass was taking place in a smaller adjoining side chapel. 

An almost identical theft took also was carried out at the Cathedral of Cervia,  in the province of Ravenna, where the crown adorning a statue of Our Lady of Fire also disappeared.

Two of these thefts, the one in Faenza and Cervia both occurred in the province of Ravenna.  The third theft in Rimini occured in a coastal town in the same region (Emilia-Romagna). 

Director Claudio Casadio, the director of the Pinacoteca Comunale di Faenza believes the theft from his museum gallery is indisputably a theft to order, given the object is well documented in public records and would be unsellable on the licit art market. If his assumption is correct, and coupled with these other two thefts, the string of the events seem to illustrate an interesting organizational structure to a coordinated series of thefts, likely committed to sustain the black market for religious art.

The theft is being investigated by the Carabinieri. 

January 29, 2018

Museum Theft: Route 66 Museum vandalized and the importance of CCTV Footage


After causing approximately $30,000 in damages at the Route 66 museum, local sheriff's deputies were able to take a suspect into custody, 25 year old, Roy Fonder, thanks to the use of surveillance CCTV video footage which allowed law enforcement to identify the vandal who entered the museum.  

During the burglary, which lasted a brief ten minutes, the suspect smashed glass cabinets, overturned and destroyed displays, and stole vintage historical items, as well as gift shop clothing. 


Booked into the West Valley Detention Center, also known as the San Bernardino County Jail in Rancho Cucamonga, the day after the break-in, Fonder was caught wearing a tell-tale Route 66 T-shirt when he was stopped by deputies for questioning.   His bail has been set at $200,000.

According to the museum's Facebook page, the mission of the Museum is to "preserve and increase both local and international interest in “The Mother Road” Route 66 and all aspects of history and heritage related to the road."

The small museum contains historic photographs and maps, automotive memorabilia, model cars and regional dioramas, including one which was heavily damaged commemorating Hulaville, a Government Recognized Folk Art Site in the Victor Valley area of the Mojave Desert.

The museum has launched a very modest $5,000 GoFundMe.com campaign to help them pay the insurance deductible and to cover the repairs not covered by their insurance policy.  

January 6, 2018

Diamonds are a thief's best friend: The stolen objects from Doge's Palace identified


The jewelry stolen during the Doge's Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale) robbery this week were modern compositions created by one of the foremost contemporary jewelry designers in the world.  Considered by some to be the world’s greatest living jeweller, the objects were created by the spectacularly gifted, Mumbai-based, artisan Viren Bhagat whose work has been characterised as a contemporary synthesis of traditional Mughal motifs and 1920s Cartier Art Deco.  

Bhagat comes from an artisan family who has been in the Indian jewelry business for more than one hundred years. He is one of only two contemporary jewelers, the second being Joel Arthur Rosenthal (JAR), whose works are included in Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani's extravagant collection of  more than 400 pieces of Indian jewelry and jeweled artifacts spanning four centuries. 

Bhagat produces only a small number of breathtaking pieces each year using only precious stones to stay true to the aesthetic of historic Indian jewelry.  Each of his designs are first pencil-sketched, then precisely produced.  All of his jewelry pieces are one of a kind originals and none of his jewelry is created on commission. 

What makes Bhagat popular with wealthy jewelry lovers worldwide (some 60 percent of his work is purchased outside of India) is his recognizably stylistic touches of western elegance in symmetry with eastern extravagance, making his pieces perfect for modern day maharajas.  

Given his recognition in the jewelry world some of his pieces reach well into seven figures. 

The pair of earrings stolen earlier this week from the Doge's Palace, pictured above, started with a simple, clear halo of asymmetrical flat-cut diamonds surrounding an eye-popping 30.2-carat nearly-colorless teardrop shape diamond mounted on a barely-there platinum setting.  


The stolen brooch-pendant features a 10.03-carat center diamond mined from the historic Golconda sultanate, surrounded by a double row of calibrated rubies and flat-cut diamond petals, the combination form the image of a Mogul lotus.  Below the centerpiece hangs a thirteen strand, proportioned tassel of diamond and ruby beads, a type of flourish occasionally found in Indian turban jewels. 

Described in the book Beyond Extravagance: A Royal Collection of Gems and Jewels, edited by Amin Jaffer, the former international director of Asian art at Christie’s, and current curator of the Al-Thani collection, the back of the brooch is said to be covered in pavé diamonds, echoing the extravagant Indian tradition of decorating the reverse side of jewelry as well as the front. Not your everyday Bollywood bling. 

NOTE:  The SCO - the Central Operations Service of the Police (Italian: Servizio Centrale Operativo) and the Scientific Police (Italian: Polizia Scientifica) will be assisting the investigators of the local Mobile Squad on this investigation. 

January 5, 2018

15 seconds to open, plus 5 seconds to pocket

That's how long it took a thief, in full view of CCTV security cameras, to open a glass display case while an accomplice stood lookout.

You can see the CCTV footage released by the authorities below.


In the CCTV camera footage a clean-shaven man wearing a hooded puffer jacket and casual pants, sporting a traditional coppola style flat cap, can be seen viewing the jewels in several display cases at a leisurely pace, along with five other individuals.  Nearby, one of the five, his accomplice, wearing a buttoned sweater and a fisherman's beanie also pretends to be enjoying the exhibition. 

Four of the individuals, two with hats and two without, leave the space viewable by the security camera in one group after only giving passing glances to the objects on display in the exhibition room.  The man with the fisherman's beanie remains, feigning interest in the objects on display before he too moves out of view of the camera's range, standing as a lookout.  

In the next frame of images, after purposely walking towards the middle display, we can see the thief warily working the lock mechanism on the alarmed display case, possibly with some type of burglary tool, though the view of how he unlocks its glass door is blocked by his back, out of view of the camera.  Opening the case takes only 15 seconds.

Glancing back over his shoulder before and after he gains access to the interior of the case, the culprit then reaches in and deftly grabs the brooch and earrings, placing them quickly in his right pocket in just five seconds.  He then closes the glass door on the case and exits in the same direction as the four earlier individuals. 

It is not very clear whether or not the four other individuals pictured in the CCTV  footage had any role in the event.  Nor is it unusual for patrons to wear hats in Italian museums during bouts of colder weather.  What is clear, though, is that hats used as disguises can be quickly removed and hooded puffer jackets can be flipped up or discarded with ease, allowing the thief and his accomplice to rapidly change their appearance, making them less identifiable.

This change-up can be seen in the footage stills taken of the two suspects.



In the top image, the lookout has donned a red puffer jacket which now covers or has replaced his earlier buttoned sweater.  


As the pair depart, the lookout exits with his hands stuffed in his pockets while the man who removed the objects from the case inside the Doge's Palace now has his hands free and appears to be talking on his cell phone. 

January 3, 2018

Museum Theft: Doge’s Palace - Venice, Italy


Shortly after 10 am this morning, on the last day of an exhibition at the Doge’s Palace (Italian: Palazzo Ducale), once the heart of the political life and public administration at the time of the Venetian Republic, jewel thieves broke into a display case and absconded with pieces of jewelry on temporary display in Venice.

Promoted by Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, the exhibition was curated by Amin Jaffer, Senior Curator of the private collection, and Gian Carlo Calza, a distinguished Italian scholar of East Asian art.  The exhibition, titled "Treasures of the Mughals and Maharaja" brought together 270+ pieces of Indian jewelry, covering four centuries of India's heritage, owned by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al-Thani, CEO of Qatar Investment & Projects Development Holding Company (QIPCO), the Qatari mega-holding company.  

Sheikh Al-Thani is the first cousin of Qatar's Emir, and began acquiring pieces for his now-extensive jewelry collection after visiting an exhibition of Indian art in 2009 at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.


Some of the bejeweled pieces on display at the Doge's Palace included encrusted jewelry with diamonds, rubies, jade, pearls and emeralds, once owned by India's great maharajas, nizams and emperors.  Founded by Babur after his conquest of much of Northern India, the pieces from the Mughal dynasty date from the early 16th century to the mid 18th century, one of India's most opulent eras in jewelry composition.  

Additional pieces from the collection were created during the politically chaotic 18th century and from the British Raj period in the 19th century and were produced to appeal to wealthy British travelers and India's upper caste.  The collector's more extravagant contemporary objects on display include a necklace commissioned in 1937 by Maharaja Digvijaysinhji of Nawanagar and made by Jacques Cartier, which is said to rival the ruby and diamond necklace of Empress Marie-Louise which is part of the Crown Jewels of France.

The Al-Thani collection brings together and regroups pieces from many former Indian treasuries, some of which emphasize beliefs of the period.

In India, the nine stones of the Navaratna (Sanskrit: नवरत्न) where nava stands for nine and ratna for jewel, are considered to be auspicious, and in Vedic texts and Indian Astrology were believed to have the power to protect the wearer.

These jewels are:

Blue sapphire (niilam)
Cat's Eye (vaidooryam)
Diamond (vajram)
Emerald (marathakam)
Hessonite (gomeda)
Pearl (muktaaphalam)
Red Coral (vidrumam)
Ruby (maanikyam)
Yellow sapphire (pushparajam)

Often the gems were set in pure gold, using a gemstone setting art form known as Kundan, a method of gem setting, that consist of inserting a gold foil between the stones which does not require soldering or claw mounts. 


Former V&A curator Dr. Amin Jaffer is said to have begun advising Sheik Hamad on his acquisitions, after becoming the international director of Asian art at Christie’s.  In 2017, after ten years with the auction house, Jaffer resigned to take the position of Chief Curator of the Al-Thani's collection.

Ripped from the pages of an Oceans 8 Hollywood Script

According to current reconstruction of the incident using cameras surveillance footage, two thieves, one serving as lookout and a second culprit who actively broke into a display case located in the Sala dello Scrutinio, quickly made off with one brooch and  a pair of earrings. As soon as the display case was breachedsounding an alarm, the pair deftly escaped through the crowded museum gallery, blending in among the patrons and were out of the museum before security could seal the museum's perimeter to apprehend them.

Exhibition Hall, Sala dello Scrutinio, Doge's Palace, Venice
Image Credit: Palazzo Ducale
Immediately after the theft, the Sala dello Scrutinio was closed pending a complete inventory and review of surveillance footage.   

At the present time, photographs of the pieces stolen during the robbery have not been released by the authorities or by Al-Thani. In a statement given by the Venice city police commissioner Vito Gagliardi, the stolen jewelry included diamonds, gold and platinum, had been assigned a customs value of just 30,000 euros ($36,084), but are likely worth “a few million euros.”  

Selling hot goods

While diamonds may be a girl's best friend, buying stolen gemstones is a serious crime.  Without a certificate of authenticity which proves a diamond adheres to the KCPS, or Kimberly Process Certification Scheme showing that the gem does not originate from a "blood zone" tainted by human rights abuses, finding a buyer who will purchase an unprovenanced jewel of skeptical origin can be difficult.

Individuals caught trading in stolen or "blood diamonds" face significant legal ramifications and buying unprovenanced jewels poses great economic risk for jewelers, pawn shops, diamond and gem traders and cutters, and anyone else who might come into contact with a newly stolen and possibly well documented stolen gemstone.

Even if the Venice gem thieves were able to successful sell their newly stolen loot, they will likely do so with only a modicum of success. While big-time professional jewel thieves may have black market connections that allow them to sell substantial pieces for hefty sums, most implus thieves have to settle for intermediary fences which pay nowhere near what the gems in the necklace may actually be worth, financially or historically.

By:  Lynda Albertson

November 25, 2017

Theft: Musée des Beaux-arts de Béziers


A self-portrait by Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the scuola metafisica art movement, titled "Composizione con autoritratto (Composition with self-portrait)" has been stolen. The artwork was cut from its frame in the top floor  Salle Jean Moulin sometime during museum opening hours during the afternoon of November 16, 2017.

"Composition with Self-Portrait" - 1926
60.8 cm by 50.2 cm
By: Giorgio di Chirico
Created in 1926 by de Chirico, the painting was originally part of the collection of French Resistance hero Jean Moulin and had been donated to the museum by Moulin's sister, along with other artworks.  It had been on display at the Hôtel Fabregat in Beziers as part of the Musée des Beaux Arts collection in Southern France.

Law enforcement authorities in Montpellier have advised that one of the two guards on duty noticed the empty frame while making closing rounds before setting the museum's alarms for the evening.  The artwork had been sliced from its frame and likely rolled up and hidden under a coat or other clothing by the thief.  The museum reported that there were only two guards on duty and that the gallery is not equipped with CCTV surveillance cameras.  

Stealing masterpieces is a terrible business, especially a painting as famous as a de Chirico. Well-documented paintings such as this would be easy to identify and absolutely impossible to fence.  This means the theft was either a naïf, who stole the painting with few plans beyond the theft itself, or a pro "theft to order" with a buyer already in mind. 



August 24, 2017

Theft: The Universitetet i Bergen posts photos of stolen objects to Flickr

The  Universitetet i Bergen has begun uploading images to Flickr of the approximately 400 objects stolen from the University Museum of Bergen in Norway on August 12, 2017. 


Thieves who broke into the museum entered
 through this window on the seventh floor
 of the building. Image Credit: Begin Police
Thieves entered the museum on the Saturday by climbing up a scaffold and breaking a window on the 7th floor.  Currently it is unclear to authorities whether or not the burglary was professional in nature, as apposed to opportunistic. 

Of the items stolen, most appear to be from the Iron Age, Migration Age and Viking Age periods. All the more puzzling as these objects are of historical significance and well documented, so not likely to generate a significant sum if the thieves tried to fence them.

As the public demands an answer as to how 400 objects could be carted away without someone noticing, individuals at the university are trying its best to look towards the recovery of the objects.  In order to spread the word quickly about the impact of the theft, they have established a Facebook group (primarily in the Norwegian language)  Tyveriet på Historisk museum (Burglary at The University Museum of Bergen) and social media hashtags #vikingskatten #vikingtreasure. Their goal being to draw the public's attention to the crime and to make the public aware that these objects may be in circulation.