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


February 1, 2014

Libération's Vincent Noce Reports on Belgian Heiress' Claim Against Sotheby's for Alleged Fraud Regarding Sale of Stamp Collection

Libération: Among the missing items,
the original design of the envelope
 "BelgianArctic Expedition" of 1957. (Photo CD)
by Isabel Abislaiman

Last December, the newspaper Libération revealed that French authorities are conducting an investigation into a claim brought by a Belgian heiress against Sotheby’s for alleged fraud (Vincent Noce, Libération, Sotheby's et la philatéliste estampée, December 26, 2013). According to Libération, the woman inherited a significant stamp collection from her father in 2009 and contacted Sotheby’s who put her in touch with Sotheby's France Vice President, Alain Renner. According to the claim, Noce reports, Renner, accompanied by expert Grégory Russel, visited the potential client and offered to put the collection up for auction at Sotheby's in Paris, estimating the revenue from sale at auction at 600,000 Euros, which piqued the lady’s interest.

The claimant alleges, according to Noce, that a month later, the two men came back and took the entire collection with them, without doing an inventory. According to the woman, they hurriedly fetched boxes from a grocery store and said it would be best for them to send the inventory once they returned to Paris. Mr. Renner sent her a certificate of deposit describing the lot in a general manner "48 stamp albums Belgium 1892-1970" and "a lot of philately bulk" estimated "500,000 to 750,000 Euros." A sale date was set "after thorough assessment, for December 10, 2009 in Paris.”

According to the claim, Noce reports, time passed and there was no sale because it had never been put on Sotheby’s auction calendar. After further inquiry, Mr. Renner informed the lady that Sotheby's did not have the collection in its custody, but that Mr. Russel was holding possession of the collection, all this allegedly without the lady's knowledge or consent. Likewise, the owner allegedly discovered that the collection had toured to a philatelic exhibit in Monaco and ended up at an auctioneer’s in Toulouse, Marc Labarbe, with whom Mr. Renner was allegedly associated. Turns out, Sotheby's does not auction stamps in Paris, Noce reports.

About a year and a half after the collection had been taken from the lady’s house without an inventory, Mr. Russel allegedly had the lady sign an inventory for the sale to take place in Toulouse. The sale yielded less than expected. Disappointed, the lady discussed it with her son, a philatelist, who asserts rare pieces had disappeared; while on some pages stamps were repositioned to hide the absence of missing stamps.

Sotheby’s position is that the lady had agreed to sell the collection with the auctioneer in Toulouse, and signed all the papers knowingly. The owner claims at all times she relied on Sotheby’s reputation and that by entrusting the collection to Mr. Russel, a third party, Sotheby’s willfully or negligently jeopardized the integrity of her collection. In another case, Mr. Russel is implied in the diversion of a stamp collection belonging to an elderly couple in eastern France. According to Vincent Noce's article published in Libération, Gregory Russel is being investigated for embezzlement, abuse of weakness and concealment in both cases.

Ms. Abislaiman is an attorney and Personal Property Appraiser.

October 18, 2013

Friday, October 18, 2013 - ,, No comments

Stamp theft: Coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum charged with stealing valuable stamps from auction house Philea in Stockholm

by A. M. C. Knutsson

A well-known coin expert and former head of a prestigious Swedish museum has just been charged with several stamp thefts from the auction house Philea in Stockholm. The man, a long standing client at the auction house, was suspected of stealing as early as February of this year. Whilst the staff were discussing what action to take, the man departed with the stolen objects. Philea reported the thefts to the police who suggested that as the man was a regular, they should plan a trap to acquire further evidence against the man.

On May 8th, the day of the next stamp auction at Philea, the police and the staff were ready. As soon as the coin expert left his home, the police shadowed him all the way to the auction house. Once there, the man took his regular corner seat which allowed him a full view of the room and the staff but not the CCTV camera straight behind him. Almost as soon as the stamps had arrived before him, the man started pocketing them. This lasted for an hour and a half. As soon as the man went to leave the building, the police emerged and arrested the culprit. Within his pockets, they found 94 stamps, with a total value of around 20,000 Swedish kronor. The man confessed to have stolen stamps on three separate occasions for a total loss estimated by the auction house of 100,000 kronor.

The expert targeted midrange stamps, ranging from 50 kronor up towards several thousands. According to Philea spokesman Christer Svensson, the most expensive stamps had a much higher level of security so the thief was clever to target the less conspicuous items.

The man who is well known in the museum world for his expertise in coins is also an avid stamp collector. The thefts started after he lost his position as the head of a well regarded museum. In interrogations, the suspect claims to have been suffering from depression and has been seeing a psychologist in order to deal with his stealing. According to sources, he is looking for help as he wants to control his stealing which he describes as a form of kleptomania. He firmly asserts that he has never stolen anything else. When the auction house sent a bill for the approximated amount of 100,000 kronor, the expert paid it promptly. In addition to this he was fined 9,500 kronor. The man has previously bought stamps at the auction house for about 1 million kronor but Philea has made clear that no one who steals is welcome back.

Further information: