Germany Extradites To Ukraine Three Suspects In Case On Caravaggio Painting Stolen From Odesa Museum (18:10, Thursday, October 14, 2010)

Ukrainian News Agency
Germany has extradited to Ukraine three suspects in the case on the painting The Taking of Christ, or Judas’s Kiss, a canvas by Caravaggio, which was stolen from the Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art.

Ukrainian News learned this from a statement by the press service of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine.

The extradition was finalized on October 14.

The suspects were brought to Kyiv by a flight from Berlin.

The said persons are suspected of committing a theft of the painting from the Odesa Museum of Western and Eastern Art in July 2008. They are also suspected of other crimes in different regions of Ukraine.

German law enforcement agencies arrested the suspects in Berlin on June 25, 2010, when they tried to sell the canvas.

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine within terms set by the European convention on extradition of offenders of 1957 sent to Germany inquiries on extradition of the suspects.

The German authorities satisfied the inquiry.

As Ukrainian News earlier reported, on arrest in Germany the suspects applied to the German authorities with a request to provide them political asylum.

On August 30, Germany handed over to Ukraine painting The Taking of Christ, or Judas’s Kiss.

Experts estimate the withdrawn Caravaggio painting to cost some USD 100 million.

The painting is currently kept in the national scientific restoration center.

October 18th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Ariz. Officials Work To Protect Ancient Art

by (AP) WILLIAMS, Ariz.
Published: Sun, October 03, 2010 – 12:19 pm CST Last Updated: Sun, October 03, 2010 – 1:35 pm CST
Investigators Have Yet To Identify Any Suspects In The Case Of A 1,000-year-old Rock Art Panel That Was Damaged In Northern Arizona Over The Summer, But Officials Say What Happened…

Williams, Arizona – Investigators have yet to identify any suspects in the case of a 1,000-year-old rock art panel that was damaged in northern Arizona over the summer, but officials say what happened on the Kaibab National Forest is a reminder of the ongoing assault on archaeological sites in Arizona and across the Southwest.

A hiker reported the damage in August at Keyhole Sink, named for a keyhole-shaped lava flow. The word “ACE” was written in silver paint over the rock art, known as petroglyphs.

Kaibab officials aren’t sure exactly what the letters mean, other than a potentially expensive restoration job that might not work.

“It’s beyond words,” Kaibab archaeologist Neil Weintraub said of the damage. “It feels like an attack on this site. What has it done except give people pleasure for years?”

Officials say sites around the Southwest are being vandalized from graffiti and looting to littering and garbage-dumping. Sites are defaced with paint, bullet marks, paintball stains and messages scratched into rocks. Professional thieves remove pottery, hack out chunks of ancient art-covered rock and dislodge anything they can carry away.

The sites are vulnerable because they’re not behind locked doors, and monitoring is intermittent at many of the locations.

There aren’t enough people to check them frequently, there are simply too many sites, and often, they’re hard to reach.

“We can’t monitor them all, and neither can the land managers,” said Nicole Armstrong-Best, interim coordinator for Arizona’s Site Stewards program, which oversees a group of volunteers who monitor local, state and federal sites all over the state.

There are about 800 volunteers who monitor the 3,000 most significant or most affected sites the program tracks.

More than 130 vandalism reports have been filed by the stewards since October 2009, when a computerized reporting system was put in place. Reported incidents include petroglyph thefts, paint damage, graffiti and dumping of debris. In a few cases, even shrines and cairns have been built on the sites.

Mike Johnson, deputy preservation officer for the Bureau of Land Management’s Arizona office in Phoenix, said urban growth in the West means more people looking to crowd into diminishing open space, putting more pressure on archaeological sites. At the same time, he said technology like GPS helps people find sites, and Internet marketplaces permit thieves to easily market what they’ve stolen.

Johnson said the BLM is working to increase steward visits and patrols by uniformed officers at sensitive sites, and to increased cooperation with American Indian tribes, for whom these sites are sacred reminders of their ancestors.

At Keyhole Sink, officials say they may have to consider installing cameras and motion detectors to protect the site.

Until the paint is removed, Weintraub said, people who come there from around the world will be disappointed.

“We’ve lost the value of people being able to come there, see the stuff, sometimes sit there alone and imagine how it was for the ancient people who lived there,” he said.


Information from: The Arizona Republic,

October 4th, 2010

Posted In: art law, law enforcement and investigation

Lawsuit Filed In Pebble Beach Art Heist Case

Alleged Victims File Defamation Lawsuit

POSTED: 7:59 am PDT October 1, 2010
UPDATED: 9:12 am PDT October 1, 2010

MONTEREY, Calif. — Two men who said they are the victims of a multimillion-dollar art heist in Pebble Beach last year have filed a lawsuit against Monterey County and members of the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by Dr. Ralph Kennaugh and Benjamin Amadio claims defamation and false light statements were made by Monterey County, the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Mike Kanalakis, Monterey County Sheriff spokesman Mike Richards and 25 John Does.
PDF: Pebble Beach Art Heist Complaint
The lawsuit comes nearly a year after Kennaugh and Amadio reported a theft of artworks from their rental home at Pebble Beach on Sept. 25.
The stolen collection — which includes works by Jackson Pollock, Rembrandt and Van Gogh — was estimated to be worth as much as $80 million.
The first court date for the case has been set for Feb. 25, 2011.
A press conference to discuss the lawsuit is scheduled to be held at the Monterey County courthouse on Tuesday.
Both Amadio and Kennaugh said they believe the heist was an inside job and done by a professional who had knowledge of what art was at the home.
As for the investigation into the art theft, sheriff’s investigators said they haven’t seen any new evidence, which left them with their original question: Did the artwork ever exist, and was there even a crime?
So far, the sheriff’s department has sent nothing to the district attorney’s office which would be necessary before any charges could be filed against anybody.
Refresh for more on this developing story.

October 1st, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation, lawsuit

New judge to oversee Van Gogh theft trial; resumes Oct. 5

Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan during the hearing on Tuesday. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Heba Fahmy)

By Heba Fahmy /Daily News Egypt September 30, 2010, 6:33 pm
CAIRO: The trial of the Van Gogh painting theft was on Tuesday adjourned to Oct. 5, when witnesses will testify before a new judge that will be assigned at the start of the new judicial year.

“According to the Egyptian judiciary system, a new judicial department (including a new judge) will be handling this case by the beginning of the new judicial year that starts on Oct. 1. The law stipulates that the judge who gives the verdict should be the same judge that handles the proceedings of the case,” Essam Bassim, lawyer representing museum director Reem Baheer, told Daily News Egypt.

“That’s why the defense team called for the postponement of the witnesses’ testimonies to be heard in front of the new judicial department so the legal procedures are correct,” he added.

The court declined the defense team’s request to release the six detained defendants — including the main defendant, deputy culture minister Mohsen Shaalan, and two museum security guards — on grounds that they are not a flight risk.

“All the defendants are prevented from traveling and all of them are prevented from going to work,” Samir Sabri, lawyer representing Shaalan, told Daily News Egypt.

Sabri added that detaining Shaalan was considered a kind of “torture” because he is an artist and he requested that Shaalan be released on bail.

“He’s an international and fine artist and this isn’t the way an artist should be treated for mistakes he wasn’t responsible for,” he said.

Shaalan spoke to reporters from the dock before the trial began. “I’m proud of my prior achievements and my history; they prove that I can’t be negligent,” he said.

Shaalan and 10 other museum officials and employees were charged with severe negligence and harming state property. The prosecution is calling for the maximum punishment, which is three years in prison.

Sabri accused head of financial and administrative affairs, Olfat Al-Gindi, of ignoring the development plan of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum.

”Shaalan fully performed his duties. He notified officials to include the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the development plan and replace the cameras and alarm system. Olfat Al-Gindi, head of financial and administrative affairs, formed committees to examine the development plan. Then she put the plan aside in her drawer,” Sabri told Daily News Egypt.

Al-Gindi is one of the witnesses, who were summoned to testify on Oct. 5.

Some of the lawyers called for the interrogation of the Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, while others called for filing charges against him.

“Farouk Hosni is either a victim or a defendant in this case. If he’s the victim then he should at least be summoned to testify. If he is the defendant then he should be charged,” Nabih El-Wahsh, the lawyer representing museum security guard Mohamed Abdel-Sabour, told the court.

Hosni gave a voluntary testimony to the prosecution earlier this month to respond to accusations against him and the ministry.

He said in his testimony that he had given Shaalan full financial and administrative responsibility of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, where the theft of the $50-million-plus Van Gogh painting occurred, according to a 2006 decree. The minister denied ever knowing of the museum’s lax security.

Before the hearing on Tuesday, the family of one of the defendants, museum security guard Ashraf Abdel Hadi, appealed to media for his release describing him as a “scapegoat.”

Abdel-Hadi’s sister couldn’t get into the courtroom before the hearing started, her screaming got reporters’ attention as she criticized the injustice of the trial while her mother wept.

“Everybody knows that he’s innocent, even the judge who’s inside knows that he’s innocent,” Abdel-Hadi’s sister told Daily News Egypt.

“Why don’t they take them to a disciplinary trial?” she said, explaining that in such a case the guards should be fired from their jobs, not put in jail.
The “Poppy Flowers” painting was stolen in broad daylight from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21 using a box cutter to remove it from its frame, leaving the ministry red faced.

Poor security measures were blamed for the theft of the painting.

Investigations revealed that the number of security guards in the museum was reduced from 30 to nine. Most days the number was further reduced so that there was only one guard on duty.

Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and none of the alarms went off during the theft.

September 30th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation, legal issues and the law

Suspect in van Gogh theft held in Vermont

Bruce Krasnow | The New Mexican
Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2010 – 9/24/10 0 Comments and 0 Reactions

The New Mexican

A man who Vermont police say may be linked to the Santa Fe theft of a Vincent van Gogh sketch was being held in Vermont on burglary charges, according to The Associated Press.

Edward Laird, 45, is being held on $50,000 bail in Montpelier. It’s unknown when he will be returned to New Mexico to face charges, according to the wire service.

The 14- by 17-inch charcoal drawing was among 77 items stolen from the home of a Santa Fe art collector in early 2009. It has been described as an unsigned sketch for the artist’s later painting The Night Café.

In September 2009, the van Gogh piece was sold at a Raton consignment shop for $250. At the time, police did not release the name of the person who left the painting, nor indicated there was a suspect.

But Vermont authorities say the man turned up there last month, and he’s charged with burglarizing two condominiums in the ski resort town of Stowe, credit-card fraud and occupying an abandoned camp in Underhill.

The owner of the van Gogh told The New Mexican last year that his great-grandfather acquired the drawing and that it’s been in his family for three generations. The insurance company had offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the attest of a suspect.

September 24th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Suspects in Buddhist temple burglary arrested

September 22, 2010 4:27 PM

Michelle Kim
AMSTERDAM — Police say they have arrested two men in connection with the burglary of a Buddhist statue Tuesday.

David Rodriguez, 27, and Hector Martinez, 24, both of Amsterdam, are accused of stealing the Buddhist statue

Police believe the men are connected with other robberies in the area.

A CBS 6 viewer, Gerald Skrocki, sent in photos of the damage from the temple, saying eight statues were stolen, two of which were jewel-encrusted and imported from China. He added, “The donation box was broken into and cash taken as well as the theft of an amplifier and speaker system, and copper piping.”

Several stolen items have been recovered, but police are continuing to look for a third suspect, Harry Delvalle, who is believed to have fled to the Rochester area.

September 23rd, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

France: 3 Men Sentenced in Case of Stolen Picassos


Published: September 21, 2010

Three men accused of trying to peddle stolen Picasso paintings were sentenced to up to seven years in prison on Tuesday after they portrayed themselves in court as witless sellers who did not know they possessed anything valuable. The paintings — “Maya à la poupée et au cheval de bois” and “Portrait de Jacqueline” — were recovered in a sting operation by the French national art brigade in 2007. Months earlier, meticulous thieves had entered the Left Bank apartment of Picasso’s granddaughter and cut away the works, leaving without a trace. One of the men, Jean Sala, 61, whose heart condition delayed the trial, was sentenced to four years, as was Paula Sabbah, 57. Abdelatif Redjil, 56, who said rope, gloves and fake keys found in his car were tools of his construction trade, was sentenced to seven years.

September 22nd, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

A Missing Painting Turns Up, but the Case Isn’t Closed


Published: September 15, 2010

Its discovery was nearly as strange as its disappearance.

For more than a month, the whereabouts of “Portrait of a Girl,” a painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot of a young girl with a lace collar, a teal skirt and mournful eyes, has been shrouded in intrigue.

The circumstances surrounding its apparent loss led to a lawsuit that brought attention to a convicted art swindler who claimed ownership of the painting, an ex-con middleman who said he got drunk and lost the portrait, and a co-owner who sued him over the missing work. It then came to involve an F.B.I. agent who has a record of recovering stolen artworks.

A federal inquiry has begun, and one of the painting’s co-owners, the convicted art swindler, has been arrested on charges not directly related to the loss of the painting. But the essential mystery — what happened to the painting — remained unsolved.

Then, on Sunday, the artwork suddenly materialized — under the arm of a Fifth Avenue doorman, who took it to a police station house on the Upper East Side.

The doorman, Franklin Puentes, told the authorities that he had had the 19th-century portrait, which officials say was appraised recently at between $500,000 and $700,000, since the hours after it disappeared — tucked inside his locker, in the basement of the building where he works.

Mr. Puentes told the police that he had found the painting in the bushes outside that building, 995 Fifth Avenue, after arriving for his shift on July 29, the officials said.

He thought it might belong to a resident of the building and tried to find the owner, said one official, quoting from a police report that recounts Mr. Puentes’s visit to the 19th Precinct station house. But he had no success and safeguarded the artwork in his locker.

Some days later, he went on a three-week vacation, and a short time after he returned, he learned of news accounts of the missing Corot painting, the official said.

“I feel very bad; I have no comments,” Mr. Puentes said after work on Wednesday. “As far as I’m concerned, I did what the law required.”

Mr. Puentes’s account could lend some credence to the story told by the middleman, James Carl Haggerty, who, according to the lawsuit, said he had had too much to drink and lost the artwork after he had shown it to a potential buyer at the Mark Hotel on East 77th Street on July 28.

Mr. Puentes’s daughter, Felipina Castillo, 47, said her father was questioned by detectives for about seven hours after he brought the painting to the station house. While he was there, his wife called his cellphone.

“He tells her he’s being investigated by the police,” Ms. Castillo said. “He just mentioned something about a picture.”

She said that when Mr. Puentes returned from vacation in Florida, he spoke to a friend about the painting, and the friend told him about the media coverage of the missing Corot.

“He had no clue what he had in his hands,” Ms. Castillo said. “He’s very sad now. He’s a little worried.”

Investigators believe that Mr. Puentes, who has worked at 995 Fifth Avenue for 30 years, is telling the truth, several of the officials said. His building is on the corner of East 81st Street, about five blocks from the hotel where the painting was last seen with Mr. Haggerty.

Mr. Haggerty was captured on video surveillance footage leaving the hotel with the painting, which is a shade larger than 9 inches by 12 inches, about 12:50 a.m. on July 29, the lawsuit said. But video recordings of the lobby of his apartment building showed he did not have it when he arrived home about 2:30 a.m., according to the lawsuit, which was brought by Kristyn Trudgeon, who has identified herself as a co-owner of the painting.

Much remains unclear about the events surrounding the disappearance of the painting, as well as the filing of Ms. Trudgeon’s lawsuit — and its withdrawal — and the criminal investigation that grew out of the news articles generated by the litigation.

Ms. Trudgeon said she was not convinced that Mr. Haggerty was blameless.

“He left the painting on the side of the road?” she said on Wednesday. “Haggerty’s been lying through his teeth.”

The other co-owner of the painting, Thomas A. Doyle, was arrested last Thursday on federal wire fraud conspiracy charges, according to a criminal complaint filed in the case by James P. Wynne, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who pursues art theft and related crimes.

The complaint accuses Mr. Doyle of trying to defraud an investor in the painting and lying about its value, according to a news release announcing the charges, which were brought by the office of the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara.

Ms. Trudgeon said she told Mr. Doyle, who is in federal custody, that the painting had been recovered.

“He said, ‘That’s the best news I’ve heard all day,’ ” she said.

She said she met Mr. Doyle in March and was unaware of his past until a few months ago. She described him in an earlier interview as “trying to make the straight and narrow.”

“I’m glad the painting is found,” she said on Wednesday. “I’m glad it’s not in the Dumpster.”

A version of this article appeared in print on September 16, 2010, on page A27 of the National edition.

September 16th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, law enforcement and investigation

Culture Minister: Van Gogh painting theft ‘no big deal’

Fathya el-Dakhakhni
Tue, 14/09/2010 – 21:18

Culture Minister Farouk Hosni on Tuesday downplayed the importance of the theft last month of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” painting from a Cairo museum, saying it was “not a big deal.”

“The Egyptian public is very emotional,” he said at a press conference at Cairo’s Al-Jazira Museum. “But the theft of a painting is not a big deal.”

Nor, Hosni added, did the ministry blame Mohsen Shaalan, head of its fine arts department–currently under investigation in connection with the theft–for the painting’s disappearance.

“The law will determine who’s right and who’s wrong,” said the minister. “He was involved in many other transgressions and we could have accused him of a lot more.”

“On 16 May, four paintings were stolen from the Modern Arts Museum in Paris, including a painting by Picasso, and nothing happened,” Hosni added. “No one called for the dismissal of the French culture minister. Investigations were launched and those responsible were punished.”

“Many countries lose valuables, but this doesn’t mean all Egyptian museums are in poor condition,” he said. “The Poppy Flowers case is now in the hands of the court, and its better we don’t speak about it so as not to influence ongoing investigations.”

“I was responsible for the creation and opening of the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum [from which the painting was stolen],” he said, noting that the museum had been “equipped with the most up-to-date security equipment available.”

“But its operation was the responsibility of museum administrators and of those who have proven themselves incapable of handling such a responsibility,” the minister added.

Hosni went on to say it would cost LE100,000 to repair the museum’s surveillance systems.

“There had been a plan to restore the museum, and the Al-Jazira Museum’s storage rooms had been ready since January to temporarily house the Mahmoud Khalil paintings until work had been completed,” he explained. “It was the administration’s responsibility, and they should have utilized the resources available to them.”

“Due to fears of individual negligence, we’re thinking about setting up a central control room in all Egyptian museums,” he added. “It will be costly, but we have no other choice if we want to avert cases of human negligence.”

The Minister went on to display a crate filled with Arabic calligraphy paintings known as “Khabiat al-Ghori.”

“There was much ado about the loss of these paintings, which include 80 Arabic calligraphy paintings,” he said. “But we eventually found them in the Al-Jazira Museum after inventory was taken.”

According to Hosni, the museum–which is home to some four million pieces of art–is currently being renovated at a cost of LE70 million, but would soon be reopened to the public.

The minister went on to criticize the Independent Conference of Intellectuals, which had called for his dismissal following the Van Gogh theft.

“No one should call themselves an intellectual,” he said. “An intellectual should be familiar with different cultures and be knowledgeable about all eras and phases of art history.”

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

September 15th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, law enforcement and investigation

Alleged Italian Temple Thief Arrested in Bali
Made Arya Kencana | September 07, 2010

Bali. Police in Bali have arrested an Italian national on suspicion of looting local treasures.

Badung Police chief detective Adjutant Comr. Soma Adnyana told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday that they had found 110 sacred Hindu objects, known as pratima, in the residence of Roberto Gamba, 50, on Jalan Bumbuk, Kerobokan on Thursday.

Gamba has lived in Bali for more than 10 years and is a known collector, Adnyana said.

Another 24 pratima were recovered from a Denpasar warehouse rented by Gamba on Monday night, he said.
A second warehouse in Seminyak is yet to be searched.

Adnyana said they had recovered sacks of ancient Balinese coins, antique kris (ceremonial daggers) and gold statues.

The Italian reportedly told police that he had been collecting the objects from locals and from Jakarta since 2006 and denied suggestions that he knew the items were sacred and looted from temples.

Police, however, are not amused.

“He bought the pratima cheaply, for between Rp 500,000 [$56] and Rp 1 million,” Adnyana said. “The evidence strongly suggests that he is a dealer who buys stolen objects.”

He said the recovered items could be worth at least Rp 2 billion ($222,000).

Police are also seek a French national who allegedly works as Gamba’s accomplice.

September 8th, 2010

Posted In: Art Thief, law enforcement and investigation

An aesthetic desert

The sensational theft of a Van Gogh from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum leads Abdel-Moneim Said to ponder the place of art in today’s Egypt
The disappearance of the Van Gogh painting — often referred to erroneously as Poppy Flower — from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum is not the first theft of its kind. Two years ago, in September 2008, two paintings by Hamed Nada were stolen from the Cairo Opera House, although they were later restored. In March 2009, nine works dating from the Mohamed Ali period were stolen from the Mohamed Ali Palace in Shubra Al-Kheima. They were recovered 10 days later.

Indeed, the painting that is currently the focus of the furore itself vanished mysteriously in 1978 only to be restored to the museum soon afterwards. Its temporary disappearance led some to suspect that the Van Gogh that was until very recently on display is not the original. In 1988 Youssef Idriss created a storm in his Al-Ahram column “The naked eye” when he claimed the painting on display at the museum was a fake and that the original had been sold for $43 million.

Art theft in Egypt is not restricted to paintings. Because of their historical and monetary value Egyptian antiquities and artefacts from various historical periods have also disappeared. In some cases entire murals have been stripped from walls and sent abroad.

Thefts from art museums inevitably excite public interest. Perhaps some among our older generations will recall “How to Steal a Million, a film starring Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn, centred on the burglary of a Parisian gallery.

As exciting as the subject is we should not let it blind us to other issues raised by the theft. Of course, the mystery surrounding the break-in is thrilling, the volleying of accusations and documents between the Minister of Culture and the museum director at once dramatic and grim. Certainly, the incident threw a stone into the stagnant pond of the media, which has virtually exhausted discussion of the Ramadan serials even before they are halfway through. Indeed, the theft of the Van Gogh from the Mahmoud Khalil museum brought people back to politics, adding a touch of the detective thriller for good measure.

The incident also throws into relief the relationship between Egyptians and art in general, and painting in particular. I wonder how people have actually seen the painting that was stolen, and of these how many experienced the shiver that artists mention when speaking of Expressionist works, and of the works of Van Gogh in particular. I did sense something of a psychological and physical jolt when I saw one of Van Gogh’s paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art and, again, when I was in front of a major work by Matisse in the Hague. Not that my particular experience should be of concern to anyone. But I wonder whether others in Egypt have felt something similar. I also wonder whether many people are really interested in the subject at all.

As serious as the theft of the painting is, a more serious problem is the grand larceny of the Egyptian artistic spirit, a crime perpetrated by the steady erosion of the Egyptians’ aesthetic appreciation over the past decades. Consider, for example, that on the day when the Van Gogh disappeared the Mahmoud Khalil Museum had just 11 visitors. Not one of them was Egyptian.

The true magnitude of the tragedy sinks in when we contrast Egyptians today with their ancestors. Egyptians have always been builders and artists at one and the same time. The construction of temples, churches, mosques and palaces was not merely to fulfil practical functions. There were always those touches of spirit and elements of transcendence that connect the earth with the heavens.

In the mid-19th century Egypt began to accumulate an enormous storehouse of artistic wealth in both the aesthetic and economic senses of the word. It was at this time, too, that the house of Mohamed Ali and the European architects and artists attached to the royal court began to transmit the culture and aesthetics of modern art to the cultural and economic elites which emerged from the Ottoman fold at the turn of the 20th century. Along with this growing awareness came the desire to possess the finest works of art that Europe produced, and the custom developed of establishing private museums named after their owners. These were healthy phenomena; they reflected the idea that great works of art are an important part of human heritage, possessing the power to enlighten and inspire mankind and elevate human beings above their basic instincts.

Egypt, poor and colonised as it was, came to have some of the richest collections of rare works of art. The fate of this wealth probably requires a special study or investigation, starting from the first acquisitions of the Mohamed Ali dynasty to the Van Gogh. Part of this study should include the immense efforts that have been dedicated in recent years to the construction of museums and to assembling and displaying this artistic wealth to the public. Unfortunately, however, the Egyptian aesthetic eye has changed. Government buildings and facilities no longer reflect a coherent architectural aesthetic or the virtue of acquiring works of art, whether they are created by foreign or Egyptian artists. Sometimes it seems as though a secret agreement has been reached to bar statues and paintings from government edifices. As a result, aesthetic thought and creation have been replaced by various forms of Islamic art, which is neither art nor Islamic because instead of striving to render the sacred message in a powerful artistic expression, it parrots the now ubiquitous Arabesque ornamentations that are used to embellish the names of God, as though the point were to create a pedagogical tool, like a fancy blackboard, rather than to penetrate people’s minds and to refine their souls.

Public policy has served to aid this process of dulling aesthetic sense. Whole decades went by without a statue being erected in the public sphere. True, there has been some improvement in recent years, but it has been grudging, eliciting muted protests that vaguely hint at the taint of sin because of the inability to differentiate between commemorative monuments and idols.

The educational system has aided and abetted the erosion of any artistic appreciation. Aesthetics were once incorporated into arts and crafts classes. Sadly, if inevitably, the entire concept proved beyond the mental and physical capacities of schools operating on three shifts. The result is a school culture that looks on art as though it were a supplement to civilisation rather than its essence. If this culture sees any value in art at all it is restricted to portraying acts of heroism. When art is reduced to a propaganda instrument, there is little left to say about the role of art in life.

The attrition has not only affected the government and the general public. It has also afflicted the cultural and economic elites. These, too, have greatly reduced the space and attention dedicated to works of art and appreciation of the arts. The intelligentsia have kept a small reserve of artistic awareness on the side just in case some incident or other requires them to spout some artistic factoids in the press or on the talk shows. Economic elites, meanwhile, have stopped buying works of art. Apart from a handful of entrepreneurs in Egypt, the passion for collecting works of art has vanished. If there is anyone out there who has built up a collection, they have certainly not bothered to create a museum. In fact, the only business magnate I know who does have a collection large enough to make a respectable private museum and who, in fact, used his collection as the basis of a book on major works of art in Egypt and the Orient, is Shafiq Gabr.

Mahmoud Khalil and his colleagues of the first half of the 20th century have no peers at the outset of the 21st century. The theft of the Van Gogh is a disaster but the bigger disaster is the theft of the buds of aesthetic appreciation from the Egyptian mentality. If the restoration of the Van Gogh requires the services of several security agencies, the restoration of the latter will require the concerted efforts of society and government. Without a doubt, various forms of crude behaviour, clumsy speech and poor public taste, are in part due to the lack of the beauty and taste for the arts in our lives. The time has come for them to be replaced at the top of our agenda.

September 7th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

More security flops unveiled in Van Gogh theft

(Daily News Egypt Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) CAIRO: Investigations into the theft of a $50 million Van Gogh painting from a Cairo museum on last week, continue to reveal more security flops.

Only one single security guard manned Mahmoud Khalil Museum which housed Vn Gogh’s “Poppy Flowers” and most of the museum’s cameras have been out of order since 2006, revealed a report by the state-run Middle East News Agency (MENA).

The prosecution’s investigation into the found that the museum had reduced the number of security guards from 30 to 9 and “most days the number was reduced so that there was only one guard in the museum,” MENA reported.

Only seven of 43 cameras were functioning and none of the alarms went off during the theft.

Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan and four employees at the Mahmoud Khalil Museum remain detained under investigation on charges of “security negligence”.

Shaalan was responsible for the development and security of the museum, according to a 2006 decision issued by the ministry of culture, giving him all administrative and financial authorities over Mahmoud Khalil museum.

Shaalan denied accusations of negligence and pointed the finger at the Ministry of Culture, which he said was using him as a “scapegoat”.

Shaalan said in a Sunday interview with El Shororuk newspaper mediated by his lawyer Samir Sabri that “the authorization that was given to me, is given to all ministry officials to facilitate financial issues and it’s limited to LE 300,000 and is usually used in very limited cases.” “LE 300,000 isn’t enough to develop and change a whole network of surveillance cameras and alarms, that requires LE 16 million,” he added.

In a telephone interception to Mehwar TV’s daily talk show “90 Minutes” Monday night, Sabri said that Culture Minister Farouk Hosni should be taken to court as the top official responsible for the security negligence that led to the Van Gogh theft.

“Mohsen Shaalan had sent several correspondences and notices to the Ministry of Culture since 2007, notifying them of the security problems in the [Mahmoud Khalil] museum, and informing them that the cameras and alarms don’t work, but the ministry ignored his requests,” he explained.

“He [Shaalan] even told the Minister of Culture personally about the security problems in the museum in a meeting between the two. But the minister’s response was that it was more important to replace the old drapes for the sake of foreign visitors,” Sabri added.

Hosni denied Shaalan’s accusations in an interview with UAE newspaper The National, on Wednesday.

“Nobody should imagine that I knew that the security cameras were not functioning, because had I known that I would have ordered the museum closed immediately,” he said.

Hosni accused the media of falsely attacking him and taking advantage of the incident to tarnish his good name and achievements as minister.

“It’s unbelievable the frenzy in the media dreadful hunger for accusations. They are leaving or defending the defendant [Mr Shaalan] and running after the [innocent]. Why? Because I am a minister,” he said.

At the heels of the Van Gogh theft, Hosni formed a committee on Saturday to take an inventory of all the artwork preserved in museums throughout Egypt in a bid to save face and preserve what’s left of Egyptian treasures.

Ahmed Salah, press officer at the culture ministry, told told Daily News Egypt that the ministry of culture established a committee of prominent artists and experts on Saturday to assess the condition of all artwork in all Egyptian museums to determine whether or not they need restoration.

On Thursday, Hosni ordered shut the Mahmoud Saied, the Islamic Ceramics and the Ahmed Shawqi Museums based on the findings of a security committee established by the ministry to evaluate security in Egyptian museums, following the recent “scandal”.

“The scandal is not in the loss of the painting, but in how it was stolen,” Hosni said.

The painting was cut out from it’s a frame with a box cutter in broad day light. Some reports claim that the thieves pushed a couch under the painting and stood on it while they cut it out without anybody noticing.

Museum employees discovered the theft Saturday afternoon on Aug. 21 before closing time.

The investigation showed that the museum didn’t keep any records of its visitors and the metal detector wasn’t working.

The events surrounding the theft caused a huge scandal for the culture ministry and shed light on the poor state of museums in Egypt.

Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris offered a LE 1 million ($175,300) reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen painting, state television reported on Wednesday.

Sawiris, chairman of mobile operator Orascom Telecom, is the first businessman to publicly get involved in the search for the painting.

Mahmoud Khalil museum is home to valuable artwork, assembled by Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil, a politician who died in 1953. The collection includes paintings by Gauguin, Monet, Manet and Renoir, as well as the Dutch post-Impressionist master Van Gogh.

Š T # # The empty frame of stolen Van Gogh painting “Poppy Flowers” at Cairo’s Mahmoud Khalil Museum. (AP) # (c) 2009 Daily NewsEgypt Provided by an company

August 31st, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Van Gogh investigations nearing closure
Arabic Edition
Sat, 28/08/2010 – 14:51

Investigations into the theft of the van Gogh painting Poppy Flower ended two days ago, according to the North Giza Prosecution. Over the six days of investigations, the prosecution heard 32 witnesses. Another six individuals were imprisoned on charges of negligence, including the head of the Fine Arts Sector Mohsen Shalaan. Authorities renewed the imprisonment of these six for another 15 days, pending further investigations.

Authorities will soon complete investigations in their entirety, according to a criminal laboratory report. Judicial sources said the suspects are expected to be referred for criminal trial over the next few days.

During the investigations, the prosecution heard the testimony of Salah al-Meligui, head of the Central Unit for Museums. He said he intended to include a plan to renovate the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the budget but Shalaan asked him to postpone that plan and use the budget allocations for the development of other museums. Shalaan successfully pressured the Minister of Culture to use money from the Cultural Development Fund for the Khalil Museum’s renovations, according to al-Meligui.

Mahmoud Bassiouni, head of the engineering department of the fine arts sector, said Shalaan is to blame for not including the museum’s development plan in the budget. Bassiouni said he created designs for the project as instructed.

Employees from the fine arts sector said there was a plan to move the contents of the Khalil Museum to al-Gezira Museum until the renovations were completed. The contents of the museum were never moved, however, because the al-Gezira Museum also required renovations.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

August 29th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, law enforcement and investigation

Antique dealer attacks ‘scandalous’ European extradition laws

An antiques dealer has attacked “scandalous” European extradition laws which led to his attempted deportation over claims that he broke a Greek bylaw at his home in London 11 years ago.

Richard Edwards and Jackie Williams
Published: 8:00AM BST 28 Aug 2010

Antiques dealer Malcolm Hay at his home in West London Photo: JULIAN SIMMONDS
Malcolm Hay, who runs a business from his Kensington town house, sold hundreds of broken pottery pieces to a visiting dealer from Athens in 1999.

Eight years later, he was arrested by armed police at City airport in London. He was detained for two days after a European Arrest Warrant was issued claiming the items he sold had been stolen from the Greek state.

Under the warrant, endorsed by the Labour government six years ago as a fast-track process for terrorists, foreign prosecutors do not have to show evidence to the British courts, but simply demand that the person be “surrendered”. In Mr Hay’s case, court papers in Athens show the alleged offence should not come under Greek jurisdiction because it took place in London. Mr Hay, 60, calls the entire affair “a false stitch-up”.

The apparent crime, “illicit appropriation of an antique object”, is not even an offence under British law.

Mr Hay said the British authorities who tried to deport him to face four years in a Greek jail acted like “the Gestapo”. No prima facie evidence of wrongdoing was presented and Mr Hay said: “The English involvement is what I find more upsetting and disgusting. Having been brought up and lived in this country, with all its values, I find it really hard to understand.

“It has allowed Greece to extend their jurisdiction, because they do not need to produce the evidence. That is despite the alleged wrongdoings happening in Britain – even the dealer I sold to says that.”

It was disclosed this week that the number of people in Britain seized under the “no evidence needed” warrant rose by more than 50 per cent last year.

David Blunkett, the former home secretary who introduced the warrant, said he had been “insufficiently sensitive” about how it could be “overused”. Mr Hay showed The Daily Telegraph the invoice of the transaction at the centre of the claims by Greek authorities.

It shows that on July 15, 1999, he sold a female trader from Athens 582 potsherds and other small items for £1,800. He said he bought them at fairs and described the artefacts as “junk”.

But at the same time, Greek police were investigating the female trader, who ran a shop in Athens. She was found to have more than £100,000 worth of unbroken pots and figurines from around 4-6BC, which by national law belonged to the Greek state. She then claimed she bought them from Mr Hay.

After his arrest in 2007 at passport control on the way home from a trip to Zurich, Mr Hay successfully fought extradition after a magistrate ruled that Greek authorities abused the correct processes to accuse him of the crime.

But a trial went ahead in Athens, with the Greek dealer and Mr Hay, represented by a local lawyer, both accused.

The female dealer was cleared. To Mr Hay’s “complete shock”, he was found guilty and jailed for four years. He has appealed against the verdict and is awaiting a hearing later this year. If he loses the appeal, the extradition process will begin again.

August 29th, 2010

Posted In: customs and law enforcement, law enforcement and investigation, legal issues and the law

26 August 2010 Last updated at 10:03 ET
Two arrested after statue theft

The statue cost £30,000 and was erected in July 1999
Two men have been arrested following the theft of an 8ft (2.4m) statue of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel from a quayside in Pembrokeshire.

Police believe the bronze statue, which cost £30,000 when erected in July 1999, was taken from Neyland overnight on Sunday.

The arrested men, aged 30 and 20 and both from Pembroke, have been released on bail and investigations are continuing, Dyfed-Powys Police said.

The statue has not yet been found.

Officers say lifting equipment must have been used to remove it intact from its plinth at Brunel Quay.

The statue by the late sculptor Robert Thomas, who also created the Aneurin Bevan statue in Cardiff city centre, was unveiled by the Prince of Wales, and was the work of the late Robert Thomas.

Metal thefts have become increasingly common this year as the price of most metals has risen.

The theft comes three weeks after an 1899 statue of a boy, Joyance, by Victorian sculptor Sir William Goscombe John was cut from the water fountain in Thompson’s Park, Canton, Cardiff.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Milford Haven CID on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

August 26th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Confusion reigns over stolen Van Gogh painting…
By Rayad Abu Awad (AFP) – 9 hours ago

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s culture minister Sunday backtracked on a claim that two Italians were arrested with a stolen Van Gogh painting, blaming a subordinate for giving “inaccurate” information.

“The information … came from … Mohsen Shaalan. Despite Shaalan receiving confirmation that the painting was retrieved, the information was inaccurate,” the ministry said in a statement.

Culture Minister Farouq Hosni had earlier told AFP and Egypt’s official MENA news agency that the work identified as Poppy Flowers and valued at more than 50 million dollars, was found with two Italians in Cairo airport hours after its theft from the Mahmoud Khalil museum on Saturday.

It was not immediately clear why the Italians were arrested and whether they had been freed.

Hosni had earlier said the museum, located in the middle and upperclass district of Dokki on the Nile and which also has works by Monet, Renoir and Degas, was visited by only 10 people on Saturday.

Italy’s domestic ANSA news agency, citing what it called “information gathered at the scene”, said the two Italians were young and that they had visited the museum with a group of Spanish and Russian tourists.

Hosni’s statement said “measures are still underway to uncover the circumstances of the incident and retrieve the painting”.

He also made a live statement by phone on Egyptian state television to set the record straight.

Police officials questioned museum employees and visitors after the theft and reviewed security camera footage. A police official said thieves were expected to smuggle the painting outside the country.

Shalaan, who had said that the painting was in the possession of police at Cairo airport, had meanwhile switched off his cellphone and could not be reached for comment.

Security officials also refused to comment on Hosni’s statement. One official described the incident as “embarrassing and chaotic”.

Hosni had earlier said the painting was cut out of its frame after the Mahmoud Khalil museum opened in the morning.

The painting of the yellow and red flowers in a vase had been stolen before in 1977, and was returned to the museum a decade later.

The museum houses a collection of paintings which were owned by Mahmoud Khalil, a parliamentarian in the 1930s.

August 22nd, 2010

Posted In: art theft, law enforcement and investigation

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August 16th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

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August 16th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Thursday 12 August 2010
Fresh appeal to trace valuable Irish paintings

Published on Thu Aug 12 15:18:04 BST 2010

Police investigating the theft of five Irish paintings worth around £40,000 from a property near Nottingham city centre are appealing to the public for help.

The artwork, along with a bronze clock, jewellery and electrical items, was stolen in August last year.

Since then officers have notified local and national antique and art dealers, and the property has been advertised in The Irish Times, Police Gazette and leading art magazines.

However, the painting’s whereabouts remain a mystery and police now hope the public could provide the answer.

The artwork includes four oil on canvas portraits, which range from £1000 up to £15,000.

The owner, who wants to remain anonymous, said: “As well as their monetary value, these items were very precious to us as a family and so we are prepared to offer a substantial reward for their recovery.”

Detective Constable Chris Underwood said: “The stolen paintings are not only valuable but also hold a great deal of sentimental value for the victim and his family.

“All the paintings are by Irish artists and may well be offered for sale to buyers or collectors throughout Britain and Ireland.

“I would appeal to anyone who knows the offenders responsible for this theft, or knows the current location of the paintings, or has been offered them for sale to contact Nottinghamshire Police immediately.”

Anyone with information should contact Nottinghamshire Police on 0115 967 0999 and ask for DC Chris Underwood on ext 5366. Alternatively call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

August 12th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation

Dinosaur egg theft arrest made

By JARED MORGAN – The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 10/08/2010

Invercargill police have unearthed the man they say is responsible for the theft of a fossilised dinosaur egg from Otago Museum last week.

Senior Sergeant Bruce Terry said police yesterday arrested a 52-year-old Invercargill artist and charged him with theft in relation to the egg stolen from the Dunedin museum’s ground-floor shop early last Tuesday.

He was also charged with shoplifting in Gore and was scheduled to appear in the Invercargill District Court on Friday, Mr Terry said.

The fossil, a hadrosaur egg from the Cretaceous period, between 145 million to 65 million years ago, was collected in the Henan province in China and was valued at $1700.

The egg was missing for two days before it was left in a supermarket shopping bag at the Dunedin Central Police Station about 8am on Thursday.

The counter at the station was unattended at the time.

Police said they were able to trace the man after working through security camera footage from the police station and images taken from a surveillance camera at the museum.

That footage showed a man walking up to the egg, checking to see no-one was watching before putting it in his bag and walking out.

August 10th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation