Showing posts with label Berlin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Berlin. Show all posts

November 17, 2020

Three suspects in the burglary theft at the Green Vault have been arrested in Berlin.

Image Credit: Saxony Police

One year ago, on 25 November 2019, burglars entered the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe in German) museum within Dresden Castle in Saxony, Germany and smashed open exhibition cases using an axe. In only a few minutes, the precision coordinated team of thieves slipped away, having made off with an outstanding cache of jewellery, including the 49-carat Dresden White Diamond, the diamond-laden breast star of the Polish Order of the White Eagle, a 16-carat diamond hat clasp, a diamond epaulet, and a diamond-studded hilt containing nine large and 770 smaller diamonds, as well as its jewel-encrusted scabbard.  The thieves then fled by car, torching the motor vehicle used in the getaway to any destroy evidence they may have theft behind in its interior. 

Nine months after the burglary, clues surrounding the spectacular art theft, lead German authorities to investigate the purchase of SIM cards by members of a clan known to have been involved in a series of criminal offenses.  This week, authorities announced the arrest of three individuals from the Remmo clan, as law enforcement from  Saxony, as well as special forces from the federal government and the states of Baden-Württemberg, Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia spread out to search some 18 properties in several districts. Officers focused much of their search in and around Neukölln, Kreuzberg and Gesundbrunnen, areas which are home to the fourth-largest ethnic minority group in Berlin. 

The Remmo Clan is made up of members of one of the grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Many moved to immigrant neighborhoods in Kreuzberg, Wedding, and Neukölln where this week's raids took place.  Some of these families originate with the Mhallami community, a cultural community with origins in the Mardin Province of Southeastern Turkey which had previously lived in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Beqaa Valley.

Members of this clan have been criminally conspicuous, gaining reputations for trafficking, racketeering and robbery, some of which have been spectacular in their execution. Their complicated family ties and property ownership structures, have made it possible for the tightly knit groups to launder money - and sometimes, but not in this case, have made it considerably more difficult for investigators to entangle who is involved and in what capacity. 

Previously, members of the Remmo clan were charged and sentenced in another audacious heist, which took place at the Bode Museum.  In that theft, the thieves made off with a 100 kilo gold coin on 27 March 2017 which has never been recovered and is believed to have been melted down

In July 2018 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. 

According to an earlier article by Der Spiegel it is estimated that while that clans make up just four percent of Berlin's inhabitants, 20 percent of suspects in organized crime cases belong to one of the city's well-known clan groups.  The trio arrested this week have been charged with serious gang theft and arson.  

To learn more about the structure of the Berlin clan groups, German readers can read Ralph Ghadban's Arabische Clans: Die unterschätzte Gefahr.  Ghadban, who has spoken out about the criminal machinations of the Arabische Großfamilie clans which dominate Berlin's underworld, is now under permanent police protection, for his criticism of the clans and the power of the Lebanese mafia in Europe. 

For the moment Saxony police have not named the individuals arrested, nor indicated that any of the stolen jewelry, pictured below, has been recovered.  


Update: 

Newspaper Bild has named 23-year-old Wissam Remmo as one of the arrestees in  connection to the Green Vault burglary.  Well known to the authorities, he has already been convicted of robbery twice. Most recently in February 2020 in relation to the Bode Museum theft.  In that offense Wissam Remmo and his brother Ahmad were sentenced to four and a half years in prison for theft.  In that investigation, a search of Wissam Remmo's smart phone showed an app used to calculate gold prices as well as recent searches on how to melt down chunks of gold. Given this, authorities have surmised that the €3.75 million coin was hacked up into smaller bits, melted down, and the proceeds distributed among an unknown or unnamed number of affiliates. 

Der Spiegal lists the other arrestees as Rabih Remmo and Bashir Remmo.






By:  Lynda Albertson

February 29, 2020

Flash Back to Restitutions: Remembering the Apulian dinos, 340-320 B.C.E. attributed to the Darius painter


A long time ago, in a galaxy seemingly far far away, a red-figure 340-320 B.C.E. Apulian dinos, attributed to the Darius Painter, once lived in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.   The antiquity was purchased by the Met via the Classical Purchase Fund, the Rogers Fund and the Helen H Mertens and Norbert Schimmel gifts in November 1984. 

This red-figure vase, sometimes called a lebed, was decorated with scenes from a comedy, perhaps by Epicarmos, involving one of the numerous adventures of Herakles in which he encountered Busiris, a king who had been advised to sacrifice all strangers to Zeus in order to avoid drought.


In the primary image on the vase and to the right of the altar and column stands Busiris, dressed in traditional oriental-style clothing. He is the one holding a scepter and who is brandishing a menacing knife. Heracles, pictured on the opposite side of the altar, casually draped in a lion's cape, is his intended victim.

Others in the scene include two Egyptians, busy assisting in the pending mayhem.  One carries a butcher's block with more knives while another is seen adding water to a kettle, placed to boil on the fire. There are also servants depicted carrying a tray of cakes, an amphora, and a wine jug. What better way to end a murder than with a quick snack washed down with wine.  

Yet, in the end, Herakles ultimately prevailed over Busiris, much in the same way the Italian government did in February 2006 they reached an agreement with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to return this and five other plundered antiquities identified in the museums collections.

Polaroids photographs of the dinos (inv. 1984.11.7 when at the Met) were seized by law enforcement during a raid at the Geneva Freeport.  These identified the antiquity in three different conditions, first in guilty fragments, then partially restored with the glued joints still visible, and lastly in a photo after it had been purchased and put on display at the Metropolitan Museum.

As Dr. David Gill pointed out, five objects, each attributed to the Darius painter were acquired by different museum institutions between 1984 and 1991, a period when southern Italy was subject to extreme plundering.  Some of those items, are still in museum collections outside of Italy.

In 2001 Ricardo Elia, who surveyed Apulian pottery, estimated that some 31 per cent of the total corpus of Apulian pots totalling more than 4200 vases, all surfaced on the ancient art market between 1980 and 1992 virtually all of which has little or no substantiated history.  A group of 21 of these are (still) on display at the Altes Museum (German for Old Museum) on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany, the major part of which come from a single burial are attributed to the workshop of the Darius painter, and were acquired in 1988.  Documented in the museum as coming from an ancient Swiss collection, photos from the seized Giacomo Medici archive show the fragments from these same vases, still dirty with earth, waiting to be put back together again.

Apulian Vases at the Altes Museum, Berlin
If you want to see this ancient object in its natural habitat and see the video in this post as it works its magic in person, please stop by the fabulous Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Taranto - MArTA and take a look.

If you would like to read more about this grouping of stolen antiquities: please consult the following:

"Homecomings: reflections on returning antiquities", David W.J. Gill

"Analysis of the looting, selling, and collecting of Apulian red-figure vases: a quantitative approach" Trade in illicit antiquities: the destruction of the world’s archaeological heritage, by Elia, R J 2001

The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities-- From Italy's Tomb Raiders to the World's Greatest Museum, by Peter Watson and Cecilia Todeschini

La diplomazia culturale italiana per il ritorno dei beni in esilio. Storia, attualità e future prospettive, by Stefano Alessandrini

Art and Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World, edited by Noah Charney

February 25, 2020

Mild prison sentences handed down in organized crime-related theft at the Bode Museum in Berlin


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from room 243 of the Bode Museum and carted off without a hitch in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it wasn't long before the German authorities pinpointed a likely group of culprits.  Taking only 16 minutes to carry out the crime, complete with carbon-fiber-reinforced ax used to break the extremely heavy security glass, and with the help of a strategically placed roller and wheelbarrow, it was obvious that the museum's burglary was not a random smash and grab.  All clues pointed to inside help, especially as the culprits had walked straight passed higher value, but less liquidatable works of art.

Raids carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, in July 2017 turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody for questioning, Wayci Remmo (now 24) Ahmed Remmo (now 20), and Wissam Remmo (now 22) all appeared to have ties to one of Germany’s burgeoning ethnic crime syndicates.  Now headed by brothers Issa and Ashraf Remmo, the clan's defacto patriarchs, the Remmo clan includes an estimated 500 family members people, many of whom originate from Mardin, and immigrated first to Lebanon, and later to Germany.  

Der Spiegel estimates that while that clans make up just four percent of Berlin's inhabitants, 20 percent of suspects in organized crime cases belong to one of the well-known clans.  For decades it is believed that male members of this and similar ethnic family clans, have been associated with extortion, drugs, laundering criminal proceeds, theft and robbery.  The complicated family ties and ownership structures developed by the clans' membership make it possible for the tightly knit groups to launder money - and sometimes, but not in this case, make it considerably more difficult for investigators to work. 

In this case, it was the fourth suspect, Denis Wilhelm's friendship with Ahmed's which helped unravel the case.  Wilhelm had conveniently been hired as a subcontractor for night shift security at the Bode Museum the same month as the theft.

After lengthy hearings, cousins Ahmed and Wissam Remmo, both German citizens were convicted as having orchestrated the job with the help of their German friend, after evidence obtained during the search of 17 residences and related property tied the men to the scene of the crime. During these searches, police found clothing which to matched security footage from the theft as well as gold particles of the same purity as the mammoth coin and shards of glass similar to that of the protective casing which was smashed to access the coin at the museum.  

A search of Wissam Remmo's smart phone also showed an app used to calculate gold prices as well as recent searches on how to melt down chunks of gold. Given this, authorities have surmised that the €3.75 million coin was hacked up into smaller bits, melted down, and the proceeds distributed among an unknown or unnamed number of affiliates. 

Sentenced lightly, given the offense took place while they were juveniles, Ahmed and Wissam Remmo were each given just 54 months in prison.  Their heavist punishment appears to be the fine they were adjudicated, totalling €3.3 million , the estimated total loss of the stolen coin.  

Wissam Remmo's sentence comes on top of an earlier conviction where DNA at a crime scene tied him to another property theft.  In that criminal case he was recently sentenced to two years and six months in prison via the district court of Erlangen. 

Their inside-man accomplice, Denis Wilhelm, was given a sentence of 40 months and was fined fine of €100,000. The fourth defendant, Wayci Remmo, a cousin of the two brothers, was acquitted of all charges as the court found the evidence insufficient to convict. 

To learn more about the structure of these groups, German readers can read 
Ralph Ghadban's Arabische Clans: Die unterschätzte Gefahr.  Ghadban, who has spoken out about the criminal machinations of the Arabische Großfamilie clans which dominate Berlin's underworld, is now under permanent police protection, for his criticism of the clans and the power of the Lebanese mafia in Europe. 

October 25, 2019

Arrested and released for health reasons, German Dealer Michael Schultz is accused of having deceived clients with false documentation.


For more than 30 years, Michael Schultz operated one of Berlin's most prestigious galleries, focusing on contemporary European and Asian art and selling paintings and sculpture to Germany's rich and famous.  He also was associated with two other galleries, one in Beijing and another in Seoul and is known to have regularly participates at international art fairs in Cologne, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Miami Beach, and New York,

But his future in the art market was thrown into jeopardy following his arrest by Germany's State Criminal Police Office or Landeskriminalamt (LKA) on October 17, 2019.  Standing accused of fraud, Shultz who was arrested at home, was released pending trial by the German magistrate due to his poor state of health. 

At the heart of the investigation is a forged work of art purportedly by the renowned German visual artist Gerhard Richter.  

Original Richter
"Abstract Picture" (Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2)
painted in 1989.
The forged artwork, put up for auction at Christie's in New York, was given to a collector by Shultz as a repayment for an outstanding debt, when Shultz could not repay the original loan. The collector in turn consigned the painting for auction to Christies. 

As part of the auction house's due diligence, they in turn contacted the Gerhard Richter Archive of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden for information about the painting and from there things ultimately began to unravel.   The original artwork by Gerhard Richter, Catalogue Raisonné: 706-2, failed to match the artwork the collector had readied for auction. 

What prompted Shultz to pawn a forged work of art so easily verified through a digital online catalogue Raisonné is curious. Richter has long been known as the "Man Behind the Squeegee" and his highly crafted abstract minimalist artworks bring top dollar on the contemporary art market as they are highly sought after.  

To create his original works Richter first applies paint in scrims, then uses a length of perspex encased in wood, which he then moves left to right, or top to bottom to create textured smears of the many layers of the still-wet thickened paint.  A faux Richter, could never (conceivably) smear in quite the same way as an original. The forger would not only need to know exactly where and in what quantity the artist had placed the starting paint layers on the artwork but he/she would also have to employ the exact same squeegee sluices, using precisely the same motion and pressure to come anywhere close to replicating the work. 


What drove Shultz to perpetuate this fraud is unknown.  Perhaps it was driven by long-standing debts, as the dealer is known to have closed his gallery on Mommsenstraße, opened in 1986 in the rich district of Charlottenburg, center of the former west Berlin.  He also opened preliminary insolvency proceedings in September through the District Court of Charlottenburg. 

Interestingly, his bad luck with Gerhard Richter didn't just start now.  In 2015 Shultz had to answer to embezzlement charges Tiergarten district court when he sold a Richter he held as collateral for another art dealer who conversely, in this instance, borrowed money from him.  When that borrower defaulted, Shultz sold the other dealer's Richter for €300,000.  Given that the sold painting was actually the property of the second dealer's wife, (and therefore not the dealer's to use as a guarantee for debt, Schultz then claimed the painting had disappeared from his gallery. When the artwork was ultimately recovered, Richter was fined €15,000.


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

January 6, 2018

Conference - “20 years of the Washington Principles: Challenges for the Future”



Location: 

Berlin, Germany

Date: 

Monday-Wednesday, November 26-28, 2018.

Cost:
Details Forthcoming

Presenters: 
To be Announced

Attended by Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel and former US-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the 1998 Washington DC conference, hosted by the US Department of State and the Holocaust Memorial Museum, in order to develop a statement concerning the restitution of art confiscated by the Nazi regime in Germany before and during World War II.  This statement, sometimes referred to as "The Washington Declaration" or the "Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art", was developed to address the issue of assets and provided eleven non-binding principles on dealing with material confiscated by the Nazis.  The document specifically dealt with art and insurance, as well as communal property, archives, books, and built on remaining gold issues following the Nazi Gold conference which had been held in London in December 1997.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of this meeting, the Deutsches Zentrum Kulturgutverluste [DZK or German Lost Art Foundation] will be sponsoring an international conference scheduled to take place in Berlin, Germany from November 26 through November 28, 2018.

The conference is being organized with the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz  [the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation] and the Kulturstiftung des Bundes [the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States].

Please see the Holocaust Art Restitution Project for more details as they become available. 





July 14, 2017

Recipe for a museum theft: 5 seized vehicles, 4 shotguns, a six-figure sum of money, and a pinch of organized crime.


When a giant gold coin, weighing 100 kilos was stolen from the Bode Museum in the early morning hours of March 27, 2017 it was pretty obvious that there might be insider involvement.  Even if the group of burglars had entered the Berlin museum through a forced window, evading the prestigious museum's alarm system, hacking their way through the exhibit's attack-proof glass case and then carting the heavy coin away in a wheelbarrow.

But this week's raids, carried out by authorities in Neukölln, Berlin’s most impoverished district, turned up an interesting wrinkle; three of the four men taken into custody, Abdel R. (18), Ahmed R. (19), and Wissam R. (20) appear to have ties to a Middle Eastern crime syndicate referred to as the “R. family*. The fourth suspect, Dennis W. was German and had just gotten a subcontracting job at the Bode Museum as a supervisor shortly before the robbery.  Nine others, individuals, older members of the same “R” clan, are also under investigation with the German authorities.    

Al-Zein, Fakhro, Omeirat, Osman, Miri, Remmo

These are grandfamilies of Lebanese-Kurdish descent who immigrated to Germany during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. Many moved to immigrant neighborhoods like those in Kreuzberg, Wedding, and Neukölln where this week's raids took place.  Some of these families originate with the Mhallami community, a tightly-knit group of families with origins in the Mardin Province of Southeastern Turkey who had previously lived in Beirut, Tripoli, and the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.

Members of several of these families have been criminally conspicuous, gaining reputations for trafficking, racketeering and robbery, some of which have been spectacular in their execution. 

While searching 20 apartments and making yesterday's arrests, authorities seized four firearms, five vehicles and "a low six-figure sum" in cash. 

Given that all four of the arrested co-conspirators are under 21 years old, the case will be tried in the regional Jugendstrafkammer, Germany's regional youth criminal court.

By Lynda Albertson