Showing posts with label sale of stolen paintings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sale of stolen paintings. Show all posts

September 8, 2019

Restitution: Painting of Ivan the Terrible by artist Mikhail Panin

"Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina"
by artist Mikhail N. Panin
Image Credit: US Justice Department
An oil painting, titled Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina by artist Mikhail N. Panin, painted in 1911 will finally be going home almost 80 years after it went missing. The artwork had been stolen from the Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum during World War II and was only identified when it was consigned for sale in Alexandria, Virginia.

The artwork depicts the 16th-century Grand Prince of Moscow, Ivan IV Vasilyevich, the first Russian monarch to adopt the term "Tsar of All Russia" as his title.  In the painting  he is seen exiting the walls of a city, looking solemn on a white horse.  Known throughout Russian history as Ivan the Terrible, Ivan IV brutishly divided Russia into two separate territories in 1565.

During this period he ruled the first landholding, known as the Oprichnina, with an iron, and oftentimes terrorizing, fist from 1565 until 1572.  The land under his jurisdiction included the wealthier regions of Muscovy, the former Novgorod Republic in the north,  Dvina, Kargopol, Velikii Ustyug, Vologda and important regions for salt extraction such as Staraya Russa and Soligalich, which in practice meant that he had a monopoly of trade in this important commodity. The second territory, the Zemshchina was ruled by the remaining boyar duma, whose seat of influence and power included the more weakened Moscow. 

The stolen painting was one of 63 artworks known to have disappeared in or around 1941 from the Dnipropetrovsk State Art Museum in the Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk now known as Dnipro, taken ostensibly by Nazi German troops.  The artwork eventually made its way overseas to a house in far away Ridgefield, Connecticut where the home and the massive artwork were both purchased by David Tracy and his wife Gabby, a Holocaust survivor in 1987. The Tracy's purchased the home themselves from a previous couple who likewise purchased the home along with the painting in 1962, this time from a former Swiss soldier who emigrated to the United States in 1946 but whom had died in 1986.  The artwork had remained in the Ridgefield residence all that time, until the Tracy family, downsizing their home for a smaller condominium, and assuming the canvas was of modest value, consigned the painting to Potomack Company Auctions & Appraisals in Alexandria.

Painting as it appeared in Dnepropetrovsk State Art Museum, circa 1929
Image Credit:  US Justice Department
In preparation for its eventual sale, the painting's history was then researched by Anne Norton Craner, a fine arts specialist with the Potomack Company whose provenance research led her to documentation which identified the 1911 work as being by the Ukrainian artist Mikhail Panin.  As part of her due diligence, Craner contacted the museum in Ukraine, whose curators then supplied her with photos of the painting taken in 1929 when the painting was still part of the collection.  The museum also supplied related inventory documentation which included a notation recording that the artwork was stolen from a city museum and listing it as "taken to Germany by the Hitlerites."

With this information, Elizabeth Haynie Wainstein, owner and CEO of The Potomack Company informed the consignor and contacted the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office, who in turn worked with the State Department and Ukrainian diplomats.  Subsequently thereafter the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia issued a Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem on December 20, 2018 against the defendant property in accordance with Rule G(2) of the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions on the basis that the painting represented the proceeds of the interstate transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen goods.  Appreciating the need for returning the lost painting to its rightful home, the Tracy family agreed to waive any and all claims to the painting.  Once no other claims were filed, the US Government began making plans to return the artwork to the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, D.C. 

When speaking about the restitution process U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jessie K. Liu stated “The recovery of this art, looted during World War II, reflects the commitment of this office to pursue justice for victims of crime here and abroad. The looting of cultural heritage during World War II was tragic, and we are happy to be able to assist in the efforts to return such items to their rightful owners.”

The Potomack Company, pleased with their pivotal role in the painting's restitution, will host a handover ceremony on Monday, September 9th at their gallery in Old Town Alexandria located at 1120 N. Fairfax Street.

Invitees to the event include:

Valeriy Chaly, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States
FBI officers from the Washington Field Office who were involved in this case
Representatives from the US Department of State
Representatives from the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia
The Tracy family

By:  Lynda Albertson

September 7, 2019

The interesting fate of Joshua Reynolds' painting "A Young Girl and Her Dog", stolen in 1984.

Image Credit Left: www.thecatalogstar.com
Image Credit Right: Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM)
In 1984 a portrait of young lady Elizabeth Mathew with her dog, painted by Joshua Reynolds, was one of five artworks stolen from the mansion home, the Old Rectory of Sir Henry Price (1877–1963), and Eva ‘Eve’ Mary Dickson (1907–1994), the Lady Price, on church road in Newick, a village in the Lewes District of East Sussex, England.  The theft occurred during one of three burglaries which targeted at least twenty five artworks from Lady Price’s collection.  

Despite its (then) recent disappearance, the oil on canvas portrait, painted in or about 1780, sold a mere four years later during a London auction in July of 1988.  Leading up to the sale, the portrait garnered pride of place on the cover of Sotheby's auction catalog.   The winning bidder, an as yet unnamed member of the art trade, then sold the artwork on to the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum (TFAM) in 1990.  All this without anyone; Sotheby's, the should-have-been-well-informed savvy art market buyer, or the prestigious Japanese museum itself, appearing to have done a thorough check on the portrait's validity on the art market before or after acquiring the painting. 

The painting, listed on the museum's website as A Young Girl and Her Dog, had once been exhibited extensively.  It toured as Girl and Dog when displayed at the British Institution in 1831, later at Grafton Gallery in 1891 and again at the New Gallery from 1899 until 1900.  The oil painting was also included as part of a 1913 national loan exhibition at New Grosever Gallery and given a different title, that of Portrait of Miss Mathew, later Lady Elizabeth Mathew.  Apparently relying on these public appearances, the auction house and the subsequent buyers appeared to accept the collection history supplied at the time of the painting's sale.


Thomas Hamlet; his sale, Messrs. George Robins, August 1, 1833
Wynn Ellis; his sale, Christie’s May 6, 1876, lot 96
William Stuart Stirling-Crawford, Milton, who bequeathed it to his widow, Caroline, Duchess of Montrose; her sale, Christie’s, July 14, 1884, lot 36
Henry J. Pfungst from whom it passed to Arthur Smith
Sir Lionel Phillips, Bt., Tylney Hall, Winchfield, Hampshire; his sale, Christie’s, April 25, 1913, lot 58
Arthur Hamilton Lee, Later Viscount Lee of Fareham (1868-1947)

Yet where and when the painting was in the many years that passed after the artwork was purchased by Sir Lionel Phillips in 1913 failed to raise any eyebrows. 

Advocating for the legitimate heirs, descendants of Lady Price, who have been asking the museum for the painting back for years,  Christopher Marinello of Art Recovery International, indicated that the artwork was sold omitting the fact that Sir Henry Price purchased the portrait directly from the Viscount of Fareham in August 1942.  Representing the family in this claim, Marinello provided the museum with a copy of original correspondence for the purchase of the portrait for £6000, as well as related confirming documents and a photograph of the artwork when it was proudly displayed to the left of a fireplace in the family's home.  

"A Young Girl and Her Dog" by Joshua Reynolds
as photographed in the home of Sir Henry and Lady Price
Image Credit: Art Recovery International.
As the painting was not insured at the time of its theft, which would then transfer ownership to an insurance company upon any claims payout) and in accordance with British Common Law, which favors the dispossessed owners and by proxy the family's heirs, the artwork is still legally "owned" by the family in the UK.  British Common law stipulates that a thief cannot pass good title onward, no matter how many subsequent owners subsequently purchase an artwork in apparent good faith. 

According to a report in the Art Newspaper, a lawyer representing the Fuji Art Museum, Haruhiko Ogawa, of Kumada & Ogawa law firm, stated at some point in the process that the museum is currently contesting the Price family heir's (Radley-Smith) claim.  The lawyer indicated that the family of Lady Price and their representative had not established without a doubt that the painting the museum has in its possession is in fact the same one which was stolen in Newick, despite there being no record of another exact work of art executed by the artist Reynolds which matches the individual female and scenery details portrayed in the singular commissioned portrait.  

Artist Joshua Reynolds made his living in the portrait trade and was paid well by wealthy clients who wanted flattering portraits of themselves and or their family members. Like some prolific artists of the period, he established a workshop of drapery painters and assistants who assisted him in keeping up with the large number of commissions he undertook.  Demand for Reynolds work at one point was so high that the artist's records substantiate that the painter had as many as 150 appointments for individual sittings in a single year, sometimes scheduling as many as three sittings a day to keep up with his busy work calendar.

This portrait of A Young Girl and Her Dog, was commissioned by Irish nobleman, Francis Mathew, later the First Earl of Llandaff.  Elizabeth Matthew was his daughter.  It is thought that Reynolds painted the details of Lady Mathew and left both the dog and the painting's surrounding background elements  to others working within his workshop.  This assumption may be speculative though as the pocketbook the artist kept for the period of time when this portrait was completed has been lost over time, obscuring the exact dates for this artwork's sitting, as well as the price paid to the artist for the commission of the 77.5 x 63.5 cm portrait.

Having said that, the purchase of art work on the international market is undoubtedly a ticklish business.  Japanese civil law assumes that if the possessor has acquired a thing stolen or lost in good faith by purchase at an auction, or in a public market, or from a trader who deals in such wares, the individual or individuals wronged can reclaim the object from the possessor, only upon the condition that the wronged individual repays to the possessor the amount which the latter, in this case the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum as the bona fide purchaser, paid for the painting.   

Perhaps to put pressure upon the TFAM, by drawing attention to the case during ICOM Kyoto 2019, the biggest conference of the museum field, Marinello issued a tweet which included a photograph of an apparently overlooked news article from the Mid Sussex Times, published on May 25, 1984, which reported on the theft, clearly mentioning a masterpiece by Joshua Reynolds and which included a large photo of the stolen painting.  Marinello's tweet pushed for the museum to act in good faith by revealing who the consignor was, reminding them of their obligation as an ICOM member museum to adhere to the ICOM Code of Ethics for Museums. 

ICOM's Code of ethics addresses diverse museum-related topics such as acquisition procedures and compliance with legislation and which specifically states:

2.2 Valid Title
No object or specimen should be acquired by purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange unless the acquiring museum is satisfied that a valid title is held. Evidence of lawful ownership in a country is not necessarily valid title.

2.3 Provenance and Due Diligence
Every effort must be made before acquisition to ensure that any object or specimen offered for purchase, gift, loan, bequest, or exchange has not been illegally obtained in, or exported from its country of origin or any intermediate country in which it might have been owned legally (including the museum’s own country). Due diligence in this regard should establish the full history of the item since discovery or production.

The TFAM has been the subject of acquisition controversy in the past.  In 2012, in a tussle with Italy, the museum was involved in a dispute over the return of a Leonardo da Vinci painting commissioned in the early 16th century for the "Salone dei Cinquecento" of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence after it was established that the artwork had been illegally exported during World War II. The museum also claimed in that instance to have purchased that work in good faith.

On November 26th 2012 the museum and Italy's MiBACT issued a joint statement simultaneously in Tokyo and Rome, wherein the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum and Italy's Ministry of Cultural announced the signing of a long-term loan agreement alongside the donation of Da Vinci's Fight for the Banner, a moment of the "Battle of Anghiari" by the museum.

For now the Radley-Smith heirs sit and wait while the jurisdictions in question hash out who should be favored, the victim of theft or the acquirer in good faith of this stolen work of art.  Unfortunately in this case, the heirs of the family do not have the weight of an entire country's loans to dangle as a carrot for negotiation. 

By:  Lynda Albertson

August 6, 2019

Recovered: Almost half a century after it was stolen the Portrait of Admiral Charles Fanshawe comes home


In September 1971 six portraits were stolen during a burglary at the Valence House Museum in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Shortly after the thefts, law enforcement recovered two of the art works and all 6 frames but over the next four decades the investigation would grind to a standstill with no further recoveries.

That changed in January 2019 when the Fanshawe family set up a Google Alert to notify them if and when any family memorabilia might come up for sale and through a bit of good luck, received a Google notification that a Fanshawe portrait, listed at a value of $3000, was to be auctioned in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

With the help of the FBI Legal Attaché in London and the Upper Dublin Police Department, London's Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Unit worked with the FBI's art crime team in the United States to recover the portrait which is set to go on display later this month. 

October 6, 2017

Recovered by Turkish security forces: Two artworks by "Hoca" Ali Rıza stolen from the Ankara State Museum of Paintings and Sculpture


In August 2012 Hurriyet Daily News highlighted a report produced by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry that examined more than 5,000 artworks in the country's State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara.  In that report, the ministry identified that it was unable to account for more than 200 artworks from the museum and that several of the pieces apparently missing had subsequently been replaced with poor quality reproductions to disguise their removal.  

Some of the works stolen included artwork by highly valued Turkish artists such as Şevket Dağ, Şefik Bursalu, Zühtü Müridoğlu, Hikmet Ona, and "Hoca" Ali Rıza. 

State Art and Sculpture Museum in Ankara
When the news of the theft went public, experts and common citizens alike complained that the museum, like many in many countries, did not have an adequate inventory system in place to track and account for artworks moving in and out of the museum and the museum's storage areas.  This vulnerability, it was partially reasoned, worked in the thieves favor. 

A subsequent investigation into the scandal brought 18 individuals in for questioning and three individuals were formally charged and sentenced to prison for their involvement in the affair. 

Cross checks conducted during this investigation revealed that some of the artwork originally listed as missing had instead been loaned out by the museum to government officials to decorate various governmental ministries and unauthorized buildings without proper documentation to account for their transfer.  Adjusting the loss number for artworks later identified off-site, the total number of objects was reduced to 180, and until this week, only sixty-four have been recovered.

Recovered "Hoca" Ali Rıza drawing I 
Yesterday, two drawings by Turkish painter and art teacher "Hoca" Ali Rıza, were seized by Turkish security forces from an art gallery in Istanbul with one individual being taken into custody for questioning.  A artist from the late Ottoman era, Riza is primarily known for his Impressionist landscapes which captured Turkish neighborhoods and architectural elements.  13 of his sketches are known to have been stolen and exchanged with forged replicas.

Recovered "Hoca" Ali Rıza drawing II


September 15, 2017

Recovery: Not all Ecclesiastical art that is stolen is lost forever



The brisk sales of "Individual A" buying objects from "Individual B"

As a result of the complex operation, twenty people are now under investigation by the Italian authorities for robbery, having received stolen goods, or other related violations of the law.  Those that have been charged, some with no prior police records, include middlemen fences who shopped desirable pieces to collectors of religious art who were apparently disinterested in the conspicuous origins of the ecclesiastical pieces they were purchasing.

Modus Operendi

Working to analyze the methodologies used to commit thefts in places of worship in neighboring municipalities, law enforcement officers saw a pattern evolving. 

Each of the thefts had occurred during daytime hours. 

Most of the incidents did not require any type of forced entry. 

To gain access to the objects the thief or thieves preferred to go about their work during opening hours, when the general public had free access to these religious institutions and where they were less likely to be impeded by burglar alarms or video surveillance systems.

Objects Recovered

The objects identified as recovered during this operation is quite extensive and paints a vivid picture of the frequency of church related thefts throughout Italy and in one case Belgium.

One of the more interesting pieces recovered was a 175 × 125 cm a 16th century Flemish panel painting stolen 37 years ago depicting the twelfth station of the cross.  The painting had been taken from the Treasury of the Collegiate of the Church of Sainte-Waudru in Mons, Belgium on July 2, 1980.   Thankfully the church had an inventory of their artworks so the alterpiece has been matched precisely and will be repatriated.

A white marble sculpture depicting a Madonna and child dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century stolen on July 4, 1997 from the church "Santa Marta" (Confraternity Of San Vitale) in Naples.

An 18th century wooden statue, depicting "San Biagio" stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

An 18th century wooden statue of Saint Nicholas of Bari stolen between May 10 and May 17, 2015 from the church Lady of the Angels located in Barrea.

A 16th century stone statue of St Michael the Archangel,  a sword in silver with an ornate blade and a silver oval shield decorated with words "quis ut Deus" stolen on January 19 2016 from the church of San Michele Arcangelo in Monteroduni.

Fifteen 16th century oil paintings on canvas, mounted to panels depicting "The Mysteries of the Rosary", stolen on December 21, 2016 from the Church of Saint Bartolomeo Apostolo in Cassano Irpino.

Two 17th century wooden statues depicting angels, a 17th century gilded throne used for Eucharistic ceremonies, stolen on November 28, 1998 from La Libera church in Montella.

A 19th century monstrance, also known as an ostensorium or an ostensory, in embossed silver stolen on October 11, 2009 from the church "Santa Cristina" in Formicola.

A wooden statue of the baby Jesus and a silver embossed thurible in which incense is burned during worship services, stolen on March 3, 2016 from the church Saint Peter the Apostle in Sala Consilina.

A late 17th century panel painting depicting a river landscape with animals French stolen on July 16, 1990 at the Rome auction house Antonina dal 1890.

A 19th century painted paper mache statue of baby Jesus stolen on January 5, 2010 from the Cathedral of San Cassiano in Imola.

An 18th century silver monstrance, an 18th century silver reliquary with a stippled glass case, an 18th century metal reliquary, stolen on February 10, 2016 from the church of San Lorenzo located in Castelvetere sul Calore.

An 18th century breastplate with helmet, shield and sword, decorated in gold, which once served as ornamentation to a San Costanzo statue was stolen on January 10, 2016 in a burglary of the parish of "Santa Maria Maggiore" in Itri. NOTE:  Many of the other items stolen during this raid have not been recovered.

Two 19th century gilded wood reliquaries stolen on August 25, 2002 from the church of San Giacomo Apostolo in Gaeta.

Four carved and gilded wooden portapalma (holy) vases  stolen on January 31, 2012 from the church of San Francisco in Gubbio.

A gold plated cup,  a gold plated ciborium with matching lid used for eucharistic ceremonies stolen on January 12, 2016 from the church of Saint Lucia located in Olevano sul Tusciano - Salitto fraction.

A pendulum clock with bronze lyre-shaped inlays stolen on August 25, 1994 from a private residence in Rome.

A 19th century paper mache figurine depicting the Christ child stolen on November 5, 2009 from the church of Saint Augustine in Faenza.

Two 18th century winged putti, stolen on January 5, 2016 from the church of Saints John and Paul in Carinola (Ce) - Casale fraction.

An 18th century oil painting on canvas depicting baby Jesus lying with crown of flowers stolen on August 14, 1994 from a private residence in Lanciano.

An 18th century monstrance with silver and gold metal cross stolen September 29, 2015 from the church Santa Maria dell’orazione located in Pontelatone.

An 18th century chalice embossed and engraved in silver stolen on July 15, 2015 from the church of San Quirico and Julietta located in Serra San Quirico (An).

A 19th century monstrance in embossed silver stolen on January 20, 2016 from the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli located in Contursi Terme..

An 18th century silver reliquary engraved with "nm" stolen on October 4, 2011 from the parish of "Santa Maria Assunta" in Filettino.

January 11, 2017

Seminar: Risk Management in the Art and Antiquities Markets Part II: Criminal and Compliance Risk - 7 February 2017

Seminar Venue: K&L Gates LLP, One New Change (Watling Street entrance), EC4M 9AF, London
Date and Time: Tuesday, 7 February 2017, 9.30 am- 4.00 pm.
Tickets on sale between £63.89 – £82.88
Buying and selling art is a business of passion. But that passion has never seemed so fraught with risk. Money laundering, criminal sanctions, regulatory compliance, charges to tax, corporate governance issues, the threat of cyber attack, online fraud, disputed attribution, question marks over title, and forgery on an industrial scale - all are variously and increasingly interwoven with the day-to-day challenges posed by borderless commerce, big data and globalised criminality. Make one false move, and the price can be high. Businesses, reputations and livelihoods are on the line.
As announced at the Art Business Conference on 1 September 2016, this short series of half-day seminars brings together experienced specialists in their respective fields to address commercial, compliance and cyber risks. The aim of each seminar is to bring together senior art market professionals, and to promote discussion around identifying the risks, and responsible strategies for mitigating and resolving them.
Each seminar takes place at the offices of K&L Gates, overlooking St Paul’s Cathedral. The seminar will commence with breakfast networking and registration at 9.15 and will include a sandwich lunch.
The second seminar is on “Criminal and Compliance Risk.” It takes place on 7th February 2017. Speakers confirmed so far, and topics under discussion will include:
·       Professional codes of ethics, combatting the illicit trade in art and antiquities, and new regulatory challenges on the horizon (Professor Janet Ulph, Leicester Law School, University of Leicester; Dr Sophie Vigneron, Kent Law School, University of Kent; and Ivan Macquisten, art market advisor, campaigner and lobbyist)
·       Risks associated with anti-money laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act offences, and their mitigation (Sasi-Kanth Mallela, Special Counsel, K&L Gates; and Richard Abbey, Partner, Ernst & Young Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services)
·   Keeping track of lost and stolen artworks and antiquities: some challenges and opportunities (Ariane Moser, Chief Operating Officer, Artive Inc. and James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries & General Counsel, Art Loss Register, in conversation with Sean Kelsey, Senior Associate, K&L Gates)

To purchase tickets to attend the event please visit the Art Market Minds event page.

February 18, 2014

Stolen Lucio Fontana Painting Recovered

By Lynda Albertson

A painting by Lucio Fontana that was stolen the night of February 11, 2014 while on exhibition in Milan from the Pecci Museum in Ripa di Porta Ticinese has been recovered.  

An Italian painter and sculptor, Fontana is mostly known as the founder of Spatialism and for his ties to the Arte Povera movement.  As many of the artist's works carry the same simplified title, ARCA has elected not to publish a photograph of the recovered artwork until the painting has been confirmed and authenticated by the Carabineriri TPC as the version of "Spatial Concept 1962" stolen less than one week ago.

Local Italian police and fire fighters were called to the Porche dealership located on Via Stephenson in Milan yesterday to investigate an illegally parked Nissan automobile blocking the entry gates to the facility which is located in the northern suburbs of the city.  The painting, located in the back seat of the car, was found wrapped in a blanket.

According to the reconstruction report given by the police, the theft occurred when thieves entered the courtyard forcing a motor arm of an electric gate.   Police investigators are continuing to review surveillance camera footage in hopes that the recordings can provide useful information to identify the thieves who have stolen the work or perhaps be matched the driver of the car left blocking the dealership.  

In an interview with Italian newspaper "Il Tirreno, the director of the Pecci, Stefano Pezzato said the recovery of the painting, which occured on the closing day of the exhibition, was the conclusion of "a nightmare week".  The director added that not only were they happy and relieved that the painting had been recovered but that they would be looking into improvements for their exhibitions' security. 
  
Valued at 540 thousand euros and on loan from from its anonymous collector, "Spatial Concept, 1962" is not the first Lucio Fontana painting to meet with mishap. In 2010 "Spatial Concept - Waiting, 1968", an all white painting with five vertical cuts, was reportedly vandalized while on display at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna. 

Like with many stolen and well cataloged paintings, the thieves most likely abandoned the artwork when they realized that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to sell. 




July 28, 2013

Kunsthal Rotterdam Theft: Facebook played a part in Romanian sting operation to identify art thieves

Andrew Higgins reporting July 26 for The New York Times from Carcaliu, Romania in "A Trail of Masterpieces and a Web of Lies Leading to Anguish", describes one of the admitted thieves as using the internet in a failed attempt to dispose of seven paintings stolen from the Kunsthal Rotterdam on October 16, 2012.

Mr. Higgins claims that Radu Dogardu used Facebook to tell alleged accomplice Mihai Alexander Bitu that he would agree to sell the stolen artworks to a local wine producer for 400,000 euro (US $531,000). However, the supposed buyer of the stolen paintings was cooperating with a Romanian prosecutor, Raluca Botea, in an "elaborate sting operation", according to Higgins who indicated that he'd seen 'a record of the exchange' on the social networking site.
Just a few hours later, however, the operation fell apart when Mr. Dogaru received a warning that the police were tapping his cellphone. Today, six months on, the fate of the paintings is still unknown, as law enforcement authorities in Romania and the Netherlands, as well as art lovers around the world, struggle to penetrate the fog of claims and counterclaims about what happened to the masterpieces, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam.
Have they been burned, as Mr. Dogaru's mother, Olga, has at times claimed? Or perhaps spirited away by a tall mystery man in a fancy black car, as she has asserted at other times? Or could they, as many in the desolate village of Carcaliu believe, simply be hidden somewhere in this rural corner of Romania?
Mr. Higgins points out that the prosecutor, Mrs. Botea, has found 'contradictory lies' in what the Dogaru mother-and-son have told her office. This article looks at the village, the personal history of the suspect, and quotes 'an official indictment' that claims that the morning after the theft of the Kunsthal Rotterdam that Dogaru took five of the stolen paintings to Brussels to sell them to a mobster known as "George the Thief" then carried them back to Rotterdam after the sale failed.
Mr. Dogaru appears to have hidden the works initially in his family home but later moved at least some of them in a suitcase to the house of his mother’s sister, Marfa Marcu. Mrs. Marcu, in an interview, said she had never opened the suitcase. She says she last saw it when her sister took it away, along with a shovel, soon after Mr. Dogaru’s arrest. 
Mrs. Dogaru has told prosecutors that, with the help of her son’s girlfriend, she buried the case in the yard of an abandoned house. After a few days, they dug it up, wrapped the paintings in plastic and buried them in a nearby cemetery. 
The trail then goes cold. In an interview with prosecutors on Feb. 27, Mrs. Dogaru said that sometime in January, this time acting alone, she dug up the paintings and, desperate to destroy the evidence of her son’s theft, brought them home and burned them all — in a stove used to heat water for the bathroom and a sauna. 
How she managed to do this is not clear. The stove in which Mrs. Dogaru claimed to have shoved all the artworks is barely a foot wide and seems far too small to contain what would have been a bulky bundle of canvas and wood. 
In a written statement on Feb. 28, Mrs. Dogaru retracted the incineration story and said she had, in fact, handed the paintings to a Russian-speaking man, about 40, who arrived at her house in a black car. She explained that her son, whom she visited in prison to get instructions, had told her to expect such a visitor and to give him the paintings.