Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hong Kong. Show all posts

November 9, 2020

Monday, November 09, 2020 - ,, No comments

Biggest Theft in Hong Kong History from Stamp Collector

Homes in Hong Kong, sitting empty this year as a result of the pandemic, have become a target for opportunistic thieves. According to statistics household thefts rose from 786 cases in 2019 to 1,156 cases in the first half of 2020 with unoccupied homes in the Chinese territory being particularly at risk.  In early September an apartment on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Te belonging to Fu Chunxiao was one of those targeted.   

The theft in the Yau Tsim Mong District in the south of the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong was reported on September 10th when the building security guard observed that an iron gate to the residence had been pried open and the wood door to Fu's apartment left ajar.  Inside there were signs of ransacking.  Police found evidence of a forced break-in and security video footage of three men who appeared in their 30’s leaving the building.  According to police the theft did not seem to be the work of professionals and could possibly have been a crime of chance by someone who knew that the owner was out of town and that there were valuables inside the apartment.   

Fu mainly used the flat for storage of his vast collection of stamps and revolutionary art and was at his home in mainland China at the time his home in Hong Kong was hit.  The full extent of the items stolen and their value didn’t come to light until after Fu sent his daughter to assist in the investigation and provided documentation relating to the objects stolen.  

Fu is a well-known stamp collector as well as a member of the Hong Kong Philatelic Society.  In 2018 he loaned more than 200 of his collection to an exhibition of Mao related stamps held in Hong Kong.  In total, it is estimated that the thieves took 24,000 vintage stamps, 10 bronze coins, and 30 to 50 artworks including works of calligraphy, paintings and even seven scrolls attributed to the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong.  

The estimated loss of these items is between HK4-5 billion (€440-550 million), which would make this the biggest theft in Hong Kong history.  One of the most valuable of the stolen stamps is a 1968 Chinese postage stamp known as “the whole country is red”.  It is a very rare stamp and is one of only nine believed to remain today.  Another was auctioned off in 2018 for KH$15.8 million (€1.7 million).  It is one of the most expensive stamps in the world.  The stamp represents the political revolution of communism in China and shows a crowd of smiling citizens carrying ‘Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung’, known also as Mao’s “Little Red Book”.  The stamp also shows the entirety of mainland China filled with red, while Taiwan is only bordered with red and filled with white; this created a controversy at the time as China claims Taiwan as territory.  The stamp was immediately recalled from use and production, leaving only a few of them in existence. 

Image Credit: South China Morning Post

The first lead in the case came on September 22nd when an individual with the surname of Lin (Lam in Cantonese) surrendered himself to the police after learning of the theft and was arrested for the handling of stolen goods.  After searching his apartment Hong Kong police recovered two bronze coins and a calligraphy scroll, which had been cut into two pieces.  The scroll is said to contain poetry by Mao Zedong and was estimated to be worth HK$2.3 billion (€253 million) prior to the theft.  

Image Credit: Hong Kong Police Force

According to the investigation Lin had thought the scroll was a fake at the time he purchased it for HK$500 (€55).  The scroll was originally about 2 meters tall but had been cut in half in order to be better displayed. Fu commented that “It was heartbreaking to see it torn into two pieces,” and that “it will definitely affect its value, but the impact remains to be seen.”  

The recovered scroll was one of seven in Fu’s collection credited to Mao Zedong who was known to be a poet as well as a calligrapher.  Mao’s extensive calligraphic works inspired a new style of calligraphy known as “Mao style” which has gained popularity since his death in 1976.  The first work by Mao to appear in an international auction was a letter from Mao to the journalist Yang Yi which was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2019 and sold for £519,000 (€574,000).  

On October 6th two further arrests were made in relation to the case based upon information given to the police by the taxi driver who picked the thieves up from the crime scene.  Two suspects were arrested in Yau Ma Tei, one known as Wu, age 44, has been charged with burglary and another known as Tan, age 47, has been arrested for harboring an offender.  It was only after these arrests were made that the police made the announcement about the recovery of the scroll, although the police are still looking for two further suspects.   No other items from the theft have been recovered.  

By: Lynette Turnblom

October 13, 2016

Conference: Art, Antiquities, Heritage and Wildlife Crime in Southeast Asia - 22 October 2016

Conference Venue: The Chinese University of Hong Kong Graduate Law Centre, The Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2/F, Bank of America Tower, 12 Harcourt Road, Central, Hong Kong.

Date and Time: Saturday 22nd October, 2016, 9.30 am- 5.15 pm.

Registration and attendance is free.

The Faculty of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong presents a conference as part of its 10th Anniversary celebrations to consider crime involving art, antiquities, cultural heritage and wildlife in Southeast Asia and beyond. The Conference will involve academics, legal practitioners, the Hong Kong Police Force, Interpol and US Homeland Security. The speakers will consider issues involving art crime and cultural heritage protection in Southeast Asia including the looting and illicit traffic in antiquities in Southeast Asia. There will also be a special panel considering the trade in endangered species focusing on Hong Kong’s place in the illicit trade in ivory.


Managing Director, Head of Private Client Services, K2 Intelligence

Criminal Intelligence Officer, Works of Art Unit, Interpol

Senior Inspector, Hong Kong Police Force

Senior Consultant, Head of Private Wealth - China, Herbert Smith Freehills

Associate Professor of Practice in Law, The Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Associate Professor, the Hakubi Center for Advanced Research of Kyoto University

Professor of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, member of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow (Trafficking Culture)

Police Commandant Ministry of Interior International Police Co-operation Directorate

Assistant HSI Attaché, Homeland Security Investigations, Hong Kong, Macau & Taiwan

For further details please contact: 
Ms Bonnie Leung ( or Steven Gallagher (

August 21, 2013

2013 ARCA Art and Cultural Heritage Conference: Senior Police Inspector Toby Bull on “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”

Toby Bull
ARCA’s Art and Cultural Heritage Conference (June 21-23, 2013), held in the ancient Umbrian town of Amelia, began with cocktails for presenters and students at Palazzo Farrattini on Friday evening. The next morning, The conference opened at the Chiostro Boccarini with an introduction to a panel moderated by Marc Balcells Magrans, a Fulbright scholar and criminal lawyer.

Toby Bull, a Senior Inspector with the Hong Kong Police Force since 1993, presented “Property of a Hong Kong Gentleman, Art Crime in Hong Kong – Buyer Beware”. Mr. Bull, a Fine Arts graduate, art historian and a qualified art authentication expert, recently founded TrackArt, an Art Risk Consultancy based in Hong Kong. In 1996, he attained detective status and is currently working within the Marine Police, whose role in the main is in dealing with anti-smuggling. The Hong Kong Police Force has no art crime squad, but has given Mr. Bull permission to lecture and do art consultancy work through his private consulting firm. Mr. Bull has been one of ARCA’s longest supporters and, like many of the lecturers & presenters on the course, was one of the contributors to ARCA’s first book, Art & Crime: Exploring the dark side of the art world edited, by Noah Charney.

Inspector Bull discussed the black-market antiquities trade and the free port of Hong Kong, often used as a ‘way station for much of China’s exported artifacts on their journey to collections abroad:

Looted antiquities are typically smuggled across porous borders, often acquiring fictitious provenance along the way. Documents claiming false authenticity and providing assurances that the items have not been looted, as well as outright fakes of antiquities are also common occurrences.

The worldwide popularity and high prices for Chinese archaeological artifacts have encouraged illegal excavation and smuggling of cultural property. Although Chinese authorities have intensified their efforts to crack down on smuggling and illicit excavation, it continues practically unabated. This huge demand for Chinese cultural artifacts has caused serious damaged to China’s cultural heritage.

Inspector Bull described the extent of the problem of looted artifacts in Hong Kong and the issue of fakes. He also raised the question as to whether or not “greater due diligence or some form of regulation amongst the local dealers could be brought in to help diminish and eventually stop the trade in illicit antiquities.”

According to Inspector Bull, criminal networks know how to move stolen art or illicitly dug-up antiquities because they already have the knowledge of the best ‘routes’ to get the illicit merchandise across the HK border, thanks in large part to their experience from drug trafficking.

"The idea that these are art-loving criminals is risible, as they are only interested in the money that comes from their various nefarious activities," Inspector Bull said. "The trade in antiquities (be they real or fake) is part of highly organized criminal enterprise structures. The people perpetrating these crimes are your commonplace criminals – no more, no less, but businessmen too, as they have realized that there is still a lot of money to be made in this type of trafficking and far less harsh penalties if caught than with drugs, for example. China is a source nation, bleeding its cultural heritage to the rich market nations. Tomb robbing in China involving diggers, equipment, and fences (middleman to sell the objects) and requires a multi-layered network.

High priced art is even used as a tool in bribing officials in China, according to Bull. "In 1997, many art dealers fled Hong Kong fearing the change of sovereignty, believing the harsh and strict export embargo of the Chinese system would be applied to Hong Kong and kill the trade," he said. "Once the announcement was made that Chinese laws on the protection of art relics would not be applied to Hong Kong (the world’s 3rd busiest cargo port), business carried on unabated with the reputation for Hong Kong being the place to buy Chinese artifacts and antiquities solidified.

However, that brings with it the problems of Hong Kong being a Freeport: “If it’s (the artifact) not proven to be stolen, objects can be legally exported, changing from illicit to licit,” Inspector Bull said. “Once entered into auction catalogues, the objects are often shown to be from a private collection in Hong Kong.”

Inspector Bull highlighted the problematical way that the police regard art crime and their lack of proper referencing within databases, making true statistics nigh on impossible to get; a frustrating fact for any criminologist looking to study this subject. Other incidents of art crime involve fake authenticity certificates for objects; smuggling paintings back into China to avoid taxes; and smuggling of fake objects. Inspector Bull also explained the correlation between art crime and money laundering and "the surprising, but sad fact", of how Hong Kong was woefully under prepared and at risk – despite its reputation as a top international finance sector with very tough anti-money laundering measures in place for the financial sector (just not for the totally unregulated art sector).

Inspector Bull conducted some of his own original research: “Out of 25 mainstream galleries in the main antiques area of Hollywood Road in Hong Kong, only four returned a 14-question survey questionnaire about the condition of the art market – and even those four that did answer did so with rather spurious replies,” Inspector Bull said. “There is absolutely no interest from the art trade to self-regulate, nor is there any lead from the Government to clamp down (or even recognize) the problem. There is simply too much money at stake. The Hong Kong Government is now looking to make the city an ‘art hub’ – seen by the recent arrival of the mega Art Basel exhibition in May. There is a real danger that more genuine smuggled pieces will find their way in Hong Kong, as well as more fakes flooding the market”.

With this in mind, one of the aims of TrackArt  is education to the art market & those closely tied to it to highlight the problems that were addressed in Inspector Bull’s insightful and entertaining presentation : he had brought with him from Hong Kong a “1st Class Fake” of a Tang Dynasty ceramic horse bought especially for its inconsistencies by Bull to be used as a lecture prop and which was passed around the audience – showing, indeed, the dangers of buying Chinese antiquities in Hong Kong. "Buyer Beware! Yes, most definitely."