Saturday, September 01, 2018

Stolen Art Watch, Fall Into Art Crime, September 2018

Update: Four held over £1m antiques burglary at entrepreneur's home

Four men have been arrested in connection with a £1m robbery at the country home of an entrepreneur.
Burglars scaled a 7ft (2m) high wall at Sir Christopher Evans' home in Bibury, Gloucestershire, on 9 July and took jewellery and antiques.
Four men aged 40, 41, 42 and 43, were arrested in the Cheltenham and Evesham areas on suspicion of burglary, Gloucestershire Police said.
A force spokesman said the men remain in custody while inquiries continue,
Among the jewellery stolen in the raid were an engagement ring belonging to Sir Christopher's wife Lady Anne and a signet ring belonging to her late father.

'Devastating effect'

Sir Christopher, an internationally renowned life sciences entrepreneur and originally from Port Talbot, South Wales, had offered a "substantial" reward to catch those responsible.
Speaking in July, he said the couple had lived in Bibury for many years and had "never encountered anything like this before".
"The burglary has had a particularly devastating effect on my wife Anne as many of the pieces of jewellery, silver and ceramics have huge sentimental value for us both," he said.
"There are many small value and large items that have been stolen but they all have the same emotional and sentimental impact."

The Great Chinese Art Heist

Strange how it keeps happening, how the greatest works of Chinese art keep getting brazenly stolen from museums around the world. Is it a conspiracy? Vengeance for treasures plundered years ago? We sent Alex W. Palmer to investigate the trail of theft and the stunning rumor: Is the Chinese government behind one of the boldest art-crime waves in history?
The patterns of the heists were evident only later, but their audacity was clear from the start. The spree began in Stockholm in 2010, with cars burning in the streets on a foggy summer evening. The fires had been lit as a distraction, a ploy to lure the attention of the police. As the vehicles blazed, a band of thieves raced toward the Swedish royal residence and smashed their way into the Chinese Pavilion on the grounds of Drottningholm Palace. There they grabbed what they wanted from the permanent state collection of art and antiquities. Police told the press the thieves had fled by moped to a nearby lake, ditched their bikes into the water, and escaped by speedboat. The heist took less than six minutes.
A month later, in Bergen, Norway, intruders descended from a glass ceiling and plucked 56 objects from the China Collection at the KODE Museum. Next, robbers in England hit the Oriental Museum at Durham University, followed by a museum at Cambridge University. Then, in 2013, the KODE was visited once more; crooks snatched 22 additional relics that had been missed during the first break-in.
Had they known exactly what was happening, perhaps the security officials at the Château de Fontainebleau, the sprawling former royal estate just outside Paris, could have predicted that they might be next.
With more than 1,500 rooms, the palace is a maze of opulence. But when bandits arrived before dawn on March 1, 2015, their target was unmistakable: the palace's grand Chinese Museum. Created by the last empress of France, the wife of Napoleon III, the gallery was stocked with works so rare that their value was considered incalculable.
In recent years, however, the provenance of those treasures had become an increasingly sensitive subject: The bulk of the museum's collection had been pilfered from China by French soldiers in 1860 during the sack of Beijing's Old Summer Palace.
In the low light before daybreak, the robbers raced to the southwest wing and shattered a window. They climbed inside, stepping over broken glass, and swiftly went to work dismantling the empress's trove. Within seven minutes, they were gone, along with 22 of the museum's most valuable items: porcelain vases; a mandala made of coral, gold, and turquoise; a Chimera in cloisonné enamel; and more.
The police arrived quickly, but there was little to be done. Before vanishing, the criminals had emptied a fire extinguisher, spraying its snowy foam perhaps in the hopes that it would erase their fingerprints, hide their footprints, and remove any lingering clue as to who they were. “The thieves knew what they were doing and exactly what they wanted,” the museum's president, Jean-François Hebert, told the press. They were “probably very professional.” The theft, he added, was a “terrible shock.” But maybe it shouldn't have been.
In the years since the Fontainebleau heist, the robberies have continued throughout Europe—sometimes in daring, cinematic fashion. The full scale of the criminality is impossible to pinpoint, because many heists never make the headlines. Security officials and museum boards are sometimes reluctant to publicize their own failures, both to avoid embarrassment and to save on the cost of security upgrades.
But the thefts that were made public bear striking similarities. The criminals are careful and professional. They often seem to be working from a shopping list—and appear content to leave behind high-value objects that aren't on it.
In each case, the robbers focused their efforts on art and antiquities from China, especially items that had been looted by foreign armies. Many of these objects are well documented and publicly known, making them very hard to sell and difficult to display. In most cases the pieces have not been recovered; they seem to simply vanish.
After that first robbery, in Stockholm, a police official told the press that “all experience says this is an ordered job.” As the heists mounted, so did the suspicion that they were being carried out on instructions from abroad. But if that was true, an obvious question loomed: Who was doing the ordering?

Security guards stand beside an item at a Sotheby's auction
Security guards stand beside a vase after being sold for $14.8 million at a Sotheby's auction in Hong Kong
Bobby Yip/Reuters
For much of the 20th century, China's leaders hardly seemed to care about the country's lost and plundered antiquities. Art was a symbol of bourgeois decadence, fit for destruction rather than preservation. By the early 2000s, however, China was growing rich and confident, and decidedly less Communist. The fate of the country's plundered art was seized upon as a focus of national concern and pride.
Suddenly a new cadre of plutocrats—members of the country's growing club of billionaires—began purchasing artifacts at a dizzying pace. For this new breed of mega-rich collector, buying up Chinese art represented a chance to flash not just incredible wealth but also exorbitant patriotism.
But less conspicuous campaigns to lure art back to China were initiated, too. One of the country's most powerful corporate conglomerates, the state-run China Poly Group, launched a shadowy program aimed at locating and recovering lost art. Poly—an industrial giant that sells everything from gemstones to missiles—was run by a Communist Party titan who staffed the project with officials connected to Chinese military intelligence.
The government, meanwhile, was sanctioning its own efforts via a web of overlapping state agencies and Communist Party–affiliated NGOs. In 2009, a year before the Stockholm heist, the efforts got more serious. Beijing announced that it planned to dispatch a “treasure hunting team” to various institutions across the U.S. and Europe. Museums were left clueless about the purpose of the mission. Were the Chinese coming to assess collections, to conduct research, or to reclaim objects on the spot? More importantly, who, exactly, were the visitors gathering information for?
When an eight-person team arrived at New York's Metropolitan Museum, it was led by an archaeologist and largely composed of employees from Chinese state media and Beijing's palace museum. As the group poked around and asked about the art on display, one participant, a researcher named Liu Yang who had gained some notoriety for his zeal in cataloging China's lost treasures, sleuthed through the museum's long corridors, looking for objects he might recognize. The visit ended without incident, but the shift in tactics was evident: China was no longer content to sit back passively and hope for the return of its art. The hunt was on.
Soon, all across Europe, thefts began.

a vase with security red lasers over it
Bartholomew Cooke
Those looking for China's lost art have plenty of targets. According to one widely cited government estimate, more than 10 million antiquities have disappeared from China since 1840. The works that mean the most to the Chinese are the ones that left during the so-called Century of Humiliation, from 1840 to 1949, when China was repeatedly carved up by foreign powers. The modern Communist Party has declared its intent to bring China back from that period of prolonged decline, and the return of looted objects serves as undeniable proof—tangible, visible, and beautiful proof—of the country's revival.
By far the most important pieces are those that were hauled away by British and French troops in 1860 after the sacking of the Old Summer Palace. In China today, it's difficult to overstate the indignity still associated with the looting of the palace, which had served as a residence to the last Chinese dynasty. Its gardens, art, and architecture were said to be among the most beautiful in the world. The palace held an array of wonders, not the least of which was a fountain adorned with 12 bronze heads representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

“The government in China doesn't think they're stolen objects. They think they belong to them."
When European troops reached the garden, the desecration of the palace became a mad frenzy. Soldiers stripped it of everything they could carry. The zodiac heads were wrenched from their bases and hauled away as trophies. When the soldiers had removed all they could, they torched what remained—retribution, they said, for the torture and murder of British envoys who'd attempted to negotiate with the Chinese. The grounds of the palace were so large and so intricate that the 4,500 troops needed three days to burn everything.
Most of the plunder was taken back to Europe and either tucked away in private collections or presented as gifts to royal families. Queen Victoria of Britain was given a pet Pekingese dog, the first of its kind ever seen in Europe. Unabashed by its provenance, she named it Looty.
In China, the memory of the Old Summer Palace's destruction remains vivid—and intentionally so. The site has been kept as ruins, the better to “stir feelings of national humiliation and patriotism,” as one Chinese academic put it. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before those feelings transformed into action.

The Meiyintang Chenghua 'Chicken Cup' is displayed by deputy chairman for Sotheby's Asia
The porcelain "chicken cup" that sold for $36 million in 2014
Aarom Tam/Getty Images
Of course, not all of the art that's finding its way home to China is being snatched off museum walls in the dead of night or wrangled back by aggressive bureaucrats. The country's new elite are helping, too.
“The Chinese don't need a coordinating campaign,” says James Ratcliffe, the director of recoveries and general counsel at the Art Loss Register. “There are enough Chinese collectors with a huge amount of money who want the pride of acquiring this art.”
In 2016, for the first time, China had more billionaires than the United States. Many of the country's nouveau riche have taken to art collecting with a giddy enthusiasm. In 2000, China represented 1 percent of the global-art-auction market; by 2014, it accounted for 27 percent. The market for historical Chinese art is so frenzied that even seemingly mundane pieces of Chinese art can electrify the scene at auction houses.
In 2010, a 16-inch Chinese vase went up for sale at an auction house in an unremarkable suburb of London. The starting price was $800,000. Half an hour later, the final bid—reportedly from an anonymous buyer from mainland China—was $69.5 million. Though the provenance of this vase was mysterious, similar objects with traceable histories of looting have proved valuable. “Buying looted artwork has become high-street fashion among China's elite,” Zhao Xu, the director of Beijing Poly Auction, told China Daily.
Their desires adhere to a nationalistic logic: The closer an object's connection to China's ignominious defeats, the more significant its return. In recent years, vases, bronzeware, and a host of other items from the Old Summer Palace have all sold for millions. Behind these purchases is almost always a well-connected Chinese billionaire eager to demonstrate China's modern resurgence on the world stage.
In 2014, a taxi driver turned billionaire named Liu Yiqian paid $36 million for a small porcelain “chicken cup,” coveted because it was once a part of the imperial collection. (According to the Wall Street Journal, he completed his purchase by swiping his Amex card 24 times and promptly stoked controversy by drinking from the dish.) A few months later, he paid an additional $45 million for a Tibetan silk tapestry from the Ming era. “When we are young, we are indoctrinated to believe that the foreigners stole from us,” Liu once told The New Yorker. “But maybe it's out of context. Whatever of ours [the foreigners] stole, we can always snatch it back one day.” (Liu Yiqian did not respond to requests for comment.)

Chinese poet and billionaire Huang Nubo
Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo
Nicolas Asfouri/Getty Images
Huang Nubo has a similarly patriotic interest in China's art. Tall and broad-shouldered, with a ruddy complexion and close-set eyes, he's the kind of billionaire who makes other billionaires jealous: He's an accomplished adventurer, one of the few people alive to have visited both the North and South Poles and summited the world's seven tallest peaks (he's topped Everest three times). When I met him at his office in Beijing, he had just returned from an expedition in western China, where he'd reached the top of the world's sixth-tallest mountain.
Huang made his money by building one of the country's most powerful real estate conglomerates, a task he undertook after spending ten years as an official in the publicity department of the Communist Party. His passion for Chinese culture has helped make him famous, and through an effort called the National Treasures Coming Home campaign, he's focusing on the reclamation of lost relics.
After the second break-in at the KODE, Huang contacted the museum. He wanted to fly to Bergen and tour the closed China exhibit. Once there, he was shown a collection of marble columns taken from the Old Summer Palace. Huang began to weep and told the museum director that the columns had no business being displayed in Norway. He donated $1.6 million to KODE, which he says was to upgrade its security. (A spokesman for KODE said the agreement did not concern security.) Soon thereafter the museum shipped seven of the marble columns back to China to be displayed at Peking University on permanent loan. (Huang denies any connection between his donation and the return of the columns.) The looting of the columns and their open display in a European museum “were our disgrace,” he told China Daily, and their return represented “dignity returned to the Chinese people.”
In addition to visiting the KODE, Huang had toured the Château de Fontainebleau, not long before it was robbed. I asked him what he had heard about the theft and the rumor that the stolen relics had made their way back to China. He tightened his face into a small smile and laughed. “I only heard about it,” he said. “[That they might go back to China] is a good suggestion, in terms of result, but it encourages more stealing. I think it's because Chinese relics have good prices on the market nowadays.”

a ceramic animal broken at the bottom but solid at the top
Bartholomew Cooke
In the face of China's repatriation campaign—and the recent robberies—museums are now scrambling. Some have stood their ground, arguing the legitimacy of their acquisitions or touting the value to the Chinese of sharing their culture abroad. Others have quietly shipped crates of art back to China, in hopes of avoiding trouble with either the thieves or the government.
In 2013, for instance, two of the famed zodiac heads, the rabbit and the rat, from the estate of the French designer Yves Saint Laurent, were handed over after a planned auction was scuttled. Officials in China told Christie's, the auction house, that if the heads were ever sold off, there would be “serious effects” on the firm's business. (Not long after the heads were returned, Christie's became the first international fine-art auction house to receive a license to operate independently in China.)
Many institutions, though, have begun beefing up security. Certainly no museum has been more bedeviled by all of this than the KODE Museum in Bergen, Norway, on the country's rugged southwestern coast. The twice-robbed KODE may not be a household name, but it's apparently well-known to the people stealing China's lost antiquities.
Located on Bergen's picturesque central square, the museum is just three blocks from the local police headquarters. After it was robbed for a second time, in January 2013, Roald Eliassen was eventually hired as director of security. Eliassen is a former cop. He's brawny and compact, with a windburned face and messy gray hair. “I read about the thefts in the newspaper,” he told me. “I thought, ‘How could this happen?’ Once, okay. Twice…well, that's not good.”
During the KODE's first robbery, in 2010, police say the alarms never even sounded. The intruders rappelled through a glass ceiling and grabbed dozens of pieces: imperial seals, elegant vases, and more.
Three years later, the scheme was even more sophisticated. Just after 5 A.M. on a Saturday, criminals set fire to two cars far from the museum. Once the police had dispatched units to respond, two robbers entered offices adjoining the KODE and smashed through a glass wall into the museum's China exhibit. Cops sped to the scene, but the burglars were in and out in two minutes. “They were very exact,” a police official told me. They took 22 items, ignoring more valuable pieces in favor of grabbing specific ones: delicate statues, intricate vases, imperial seals.
The police managed to arrest six men but determined they were merely foot soldiers, unwilling or unable to share useful information about who had hired them. “The thieves didn't think of this themselves,” the police official said. Eliassen offered a simple explanation of what happened: “We had objects that somebody wanted, and he hired someone to take them.”
When I visited Bergen, the China exhibit was closed to the public for renovations after a security upgrade, which included the installation of an imposing series of sliding gates and metal doors. A guard stood watch nearby. Inside the gallery, the space was mostly empty. Anything light enough to be carried had been moved into storage, and the heavy items—white marble statues and pillars and big-bellied Buddhas—were covered in clear tarp.
At the KODE, there was a silver lining to that second heist. Amid all the unwanted attention, authorities got a lucky tip about a piece taken in the first break-in. They were told it had made its way back to China and was now on display at a Shanghai airport. But even this possibility came with its own frustrations: Bergen police lacked the power to follow up, and Norwegian officials, wary of upsetting a delicate relationship with China, did nothing. “If we say an item is in China, they say, ‘Prove it,’ ” said Kenneth Didriksen, the head of Norway's art-crime unit. So, he told me, they stood down. “We don't want to insult anyone.”
Eliassen believed that the best thing for the museum to do was to protect the art that remained. The pieces were probably never coming back. “The government in China doesn't think they're stolen objects,” he said. “They think they belong to them. They won't take it seriously, won't follow the trail. That's the biggest problem.”
Even art-crime experts, though, are quick to acknowledge that the situation might look different from China's perspective. Noah Charney, a professor of art history and founder of the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art, says that when it comes to winning back their lost art, the Chinese can't imagine how such a thing would be wrong. “It's almost like there's a fog around it from a criminological perspective,” he said. “It's like another planet, in terms of the way people think about what art is, what authenticity is, what is socially unacceptable to do.”

After Beijing’s Old Summer Palace was sacked, many of its treasures ended up at the Château de Fontainebleau, near Paris.
Paul Popper/Popperfoto
Château de Fontainebleau
Paul Popper/Popperfoto
On a gray day in Beijing, I visited the grounds of the Old Summer Palace. Today the site is a popular destination for tourists and school field trips. It has not been rebuilt; the point of the park is its state of destruction.
I'd come to meet with Liu Yang, who'd been a member of the treasure-hunting delegation to the Met in New York City. In his office, Liu keeps a lone photo on the wall—an aerial shot of the park. In it, the site looks like a bombed-out war zone, with barren patches where statues and monuments once stood. “It was a Chinese fairy tale,” he told me, “and it was destroyed by foreign armies.”
Liu is mild-mannered and scrupulously polite. For 20 years he's been a player in China's battle to get its art back, but even today he feels his work is just beginning. He showed me a book he'd published, a comprehensive inventory of the palace's lost treasures. The pages were filled with sticky notes and handwritten notations, and as he flipped through, he pointed out photos of items held by some of the world's best-known museums.
Of course, he'd been to many of them, sometimes under odd circumstances. “My most troublesome experience was at the Metropolitan Museum in New York,” Liu said. “Everyone was very nervous. They called a Chinese lawyer and gave me the phone so she could tell me that the museum had no items from the Old Summer Palace and that all their items were held via legal means.” (A spokesman for the Met denied that any such call took place.)
“We will never give up, we will never stop—no matter the effort. We need [the Chinese] people to see that everything that belonged to us is coming back.”
Liu says curators in the UK were less defensive. “When I told them these objects were taken, they barely reacted,” Liu said. “They just showed me their records of which generals took what. They're very direct about it. They don't hide it.”
Still, he's not surprised when a museum clamps down once he begins sniffing around. After a visit to the Wallace Collection, in central London, he says, he noticed the museum's website no longer listed the objects he'd asked about. (A spokesman for the Wallace Collection said those objects were temporarily removed to be prepared for an exhibition and are now on display.)
It didn't much matter; Liu had a good idea of what was housed there. He knows the collections of foreign museums inside and out, and museum officials know him, too, even if they don't have much enthusiasm for his research. A few years ago, he had visited the Château de Fontainebleau, and his book had been published right before the sensational robbery there. After the crime, he got a panicked phone call. “I was the first person to learn the news about the robbery there, about 30 minutes after it happened,” he told me. “The museum staff contacted me in very broken Chinese. They said, ‘These items were stolen right after your book was published, and your book was the first catalog of the Old Summer Palace. Do you see a connection?’ ” He says he politely suggested that they maybe tell other museums to improve their security. (Officials at the Château de Fontainebleau did not respond to requests for comment.)
Liu seems ambivalent toward the plight of burgled museums, especially a place like the Fontainebleau, which he says holds more looted Chinese art than any other institution on earth and advertises the collection's origins as plunder from the sacking of the Old Summer Palace. “Displaying these objects in European museums is like a theft itself—they're just showing it off without concern,” Liu said. “I know that we won't get everything back in my lifetime,” he continued. “We will never give up, we will never stop—no matter the effort. We need [the Chinese] people to see that everything that belonged to us is coming back.”
The biggest prize of all, and the most elusive, is the set of zodiac heads from the fountain at the Old Summer Palace, five of which remain missing. “For 100 years we've been looking,” Liu said. Despite his persistence, it's likely that if the 12 zodiac heads are someday re-united and the glorious fountain is re-established, it would not be through the work of a researcher like him, or even thanks to the big spending of a patriotic billionaire like Huang Nubo. Instead, it would be due to the efforts of one of China's richest, most powerful, and most impenetrable entities, a corporation that's been in on the hunt since the very beginning: China Poly.

A boy views the ox bronze head of Qing Dynasty
A boy views the ox bronze head of Qing Dynasty, one of the 12 Chinese zodiac sculptures which originated from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing.
China Photos/Getty Images
Even among China's elite class of state-controlled behemoths, the China Poly Group is unique for its power and its varied pursuits. According to Fortune, last year it had declared assets of $95.7 billion, almost twice the GDP of Croatia. Its art-repatriation campaign—begun by its former president, the military-intelligence chief He Ping—is now run by an offshoot firm called Poly Culture, which manages the company's burgeoning antiquities collection. In 2000, the same year as Poly Culture's founding, Poly managed to buy back three of the Old Summer Palace's zodiac heads. It's since added a fourth, while a fifth and sixth are housed at China's National Museum and a seventh is kept at the Capital Museum.
“The heads represent our feelings for the entire nation; we love them and we weep for them,” said Jiang Yingchun, the CEO of Poly Culture. We were sitting at a large conference table high up in the company's Beijing headquarters, with a view of the smog-drenched skyline. Jiang was reclining in a black leather chair and smoking an e-cigarette. In the corner of the room, an air filter hummed quietly.
“We can try many ways to get the heads back,” he told me without much elaboration. “The auction is just one method.” It was not the technique that mattered, he seemed to be saying, but the result: The heads must return. “We can't ignore that the art was taken illegally,” even if it was being well cared for, he said. “If you kidnapped my children and then treated them well, the crime is still not forgiven.”
Poly has long worked hand in hand with the Chinese state and the Communist Party. For decades the company operated as the commercial arm of the People's Liberation Army, peddling weapons around the world while also buying and selling art—and running a global information network to locate lost antiquities. That operation was reportedly once described by the company as a long-term “retrieve action” to reclaim treasures “robbed away from China by western powers.” (Officials for the company didn't respond to written requests to elaborate on this program or to questions about the recent spate of art crimes.)
His e-cigarette depleted, Jiang excused himself for another meeting and handed me off to a curator from the Poly Museum. She proudly offered to show me the recovered zodiac heads. At the entrance to the museum, I noticed a wooden plaque. Many items in the collection, it announced, had been “recovered from overseas and saved from being lost to the nation.”
The curator guided me toward a dark, carpeted room in the rear of the museum. Inside, each of the four revered heads—the ox, the tiger, the monkey, and the pig—had been given its own display case, in which it sat atop purple velvet cushioning.
“The first time I saw them, I was so excited,” the curator told me. She spoke in a low, reverential whisper. She was a student then and remembered how, on the day the heads were officially returned, her entire school had watched the ceremony on television. Students wept at their desks.
I asked if she thought the rest would ever be returned. There had been nothing but fakes and false leads for years, and the best guess seemed to be that the remaining five were hidden away in private collections somewhere in Europe. She paused and walked forward to admire the growling bronze tiger head. “Their return is the deepest hope of the Chinese people,” she said. “It's a very sad and hard history for us. When the heads come back, we will finally feel the power of our country.”


Vile conman who preyed on vulnerable victims in £400k scam stole man’s priceless World War One family medal collection

Daniel Clelland admitted scamming people out of items worth around £400,000 – after protesting his innocence for three years
A MAN who had three of his great uncle’s World War One medals stolen by an antiques dealer conman described him as a “scumbag” who preyed on vulnerable victims.
Daniel Clelland, 44, admitted six offences of fraud by false representation at Chelmsford Crown Court on Tuesday.

This stirrup cup was one of the items victim Richard Browning-Smith had stolen - thankfully it was recovered, but three of his great uncle's war medals from World War One are still missing
The court heard he opened an antique shop called the Dolls House, in Harwich, and another called Scrooge, in Manningtree.
He earned his victims’ trust by initially selling items and paying them - but then the money stopped coming.
In total, Clelland admitted scamming people out of items worth around £400,000 – after protesting his innocence for three years.
Among them was a stamp collection and other goods belonging to one customer said to be worth £300,000.
Another fraud related to using £31,530 cash belonging to 64-year-old Richard Browning-Smith.

Geoffrey Wear, who served in the Essex Yeomanry, during the First World War
Mr Browning-Smith, from Manningtree, told the Sun Online: “Mr Clelland had opened two antique shops, one in Harwick and another in Manningtree. In the window he said he would do valuations on gold, silver and family heirlooms.
“So I asked him to do that but the items never came back, as he stole them.
“My great uncle [Geoffrey Wear] served in World War One and there were two medals stolen with his name, along with Essex Yeomanry, engraved on them.
“He was also awarded the Russian medal which was given to any Commonwealth active member of the Armed services who showed particular deeds of valour. That was also stolen.
“Also taken was his 9 Carat gold vesta case, a vital item for soldiers in trench warfare as this kept their matches dry as they needed to smoke to help with nerves, especially if going over the top.
"All the medals have Geoffrey Wear on them and I'm still hopefully I will get them back somehow. He’s stolen my heritage.”
The 64-year-old, a retired insurance agent, added: “Recently I was with the Royal British Legion in Belgium at the Menin Gate Ypres to commemorate 100 years since the end of WW1. I could have worn these medals to honour his name as I am my great uncle’s nearest surviving relative.”

Mr Browning-Smith said Clelland preyed on vulnerable victims
Mr Browning-Smith said Clelland preyed on vulnerable victims.
He said: “I asked him to do the valuations for insurance purposes at the end of November 2015. I was in a very vulnerable position as my father had died in January 2015…I didn’t feel good at the time.
“It’s been a very stressful time, it doesn’t help my bipolar, what he did has affected me. Mr Clelland preyed on vulnerable people. He’s scum. When he gets sentenced, I hope he gets 20 years in prison. For three years he was saying he was not guilty. I will go to see him get sentenced.”
Mr Browning Smith said Clelland stole around 20 to 30 items from him, including his father’s coin collection which was made up of around 500 to 1,000 coins.
Another victim was 79-year-old Eileen Tyrer, from Dovercourt.
She said: "My husband gave him a Penny Black worth £700 as well as silver coins.
"There was a tin box I wish I have never given him. There was quite a bit of stuff worth £3,000. It was a horrible time.
"But the police have been absolutely wonderful and I can't thank them enough."
Judge David Turner QC adjourned sentence until September 28 and told Clelland: “The overwhelming likelihood is there will be a prison sentence.”
He said Clelland would get credit for his pleas at the “59th minute” because it avoided a number of “quite vulnerable people from a true ordeal”.

How An FBI Sting Operation Helped NC Recover Its Copy Of The Bill Of Rights

In an effort to tell more stories from throughout North Carolina, WFAE has launched a new collaboration with Our State magazine. In this report, Our State's Jeremy Markovich has the story of  a priceless document that was stolen during the Civil War, and recovered in an FBI sting operation 138 years later.
This story starts in a small room, on the third floor of the old Capitol building in Raleigh. In April of 1865, in the closing days of the Civil War, a Union soldier came into this room, looked through cabinets and found a folded up piece of parchment. That parchment turned out to be North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights.
"When the Bill of Rights was proposed in Congress, they created 14 original copies, one for each of the original states and one that the federal government kept," explained state archivist Sarah Koonts. "And North Carolina's was sent to us, and it has had a long and interesting journey."
That is an incredible understatement. Because over the next 138 years, the document itself was missing. We now know that a Union soldier sold the Bill of Rights to a family in Indiana for $5. That family kept it for more than a century before selling it to an antiques dealer named Wayne Pratt, who used to be a regular on the Antiques Roadshow on PBS.
In 2003, Pratt and his associates tried to sell the document to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for $4 million. And that’s when then-North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley received a surprise phone call.
"I remember being up in the Southwest bedroom at a desk working on a State of the State address when I got this call that Governor Rendell from Pennsylvania was on the other line and wanted to speak to me," Easley said.
And Pennsylvania’s governor told Easley that somebody wanted to sell a copy of the Bill of Rights that was stolen from North Carolina.
"And I told him I was certainly surprised to hear that it had surfaced again because there's only two other times to my recollection,” Easley said. “And that I certainly want to figure out a way to get it. I did not want to give it up to Pennsylvania or anybody else, and it was our property and we would take that position."
After that, a lot of people get involved – including the FBI – and a special agent named Robert Wittman, who specialized in recovering priceless documents and works of art.
"Probably the most valuable piece that I ever recovered was the North Carolina copy of the Bill of Rights. The value on that has placed it close to $100 million — if it could be sold," Wittman said.
"In other words, if it could be brought legitimately to market and marketed to the collector societies, it can actually bring as much as $100 million," he added. "True reality though, of course, is zero because it belongs to the state of North Carolina. It's owned by the people of North Carolina. And, therefore, it can't be sold. It can't be passed. So it's actually zero."
So it’s worth a lot and nothing at the same, "the case with all stolen art," Wittman said.
Wittman and the FBI put together a sting operation. First, they got the National Constitution Center's then-CEO Joe Torsella to play along.
"What I assumed at the beginning of this was us calling and saying we’re going to buy it, why don’t you bring it over next Tuesday," Torsella said. "What wasn’t really clear to us, in the beginning, was how real this was going to need to be."
It was so real that Torsella and his attorneys negotiated a deal with Pratt, and on March 18, 2003, they showed up in the conference room of a Philadelphia law firm with paperwork and a check.
“So we actually had a check drawn up on the National Constitution Center,” Wittman said.
A cashier’s check for $4 million that was shown to the sellers when they arrived.
He added, “Of course it was not going to be paid, but we had it there."
Wittman was in the room undercover playing a wealthy philanthropist. The lawyer for the seller went into the room, looked over the paperwork and checked out the check.
"That's when he made the phone call, it was almost like a drug deal in some respect," he said. "You know, you see the money then you make the phone call to have the drugs delivered. And in this case it wasn't drugs. It was the North Carolina copy of the Bill of Rights."
A bike messenger showed up with a cardboard carrier. Wittman opened it up and took a look.
"I said, ‘That's really a neat looking piece, isn't it?’ It was like, ‘Wow that's the Bill of Rights,'" Wittman said. "It was just a eureka moment."
Right after that, someone in the room gave the signal to the five FBI agents waiting in another room to come in.
"He (the seller) was a bit surprised," Wittman recalled.
A few hours later, Governor Easley got another surprise phone call.
"And he said we got it," Easley said. "I said, 'Got what? What are you talking about?' He said, 'We got the Bill of Rights.'"
Two weeks after that, the Bill of Rights was flown back to Raleigh on the private jet of FBI Director Robert Mueller. It would take five years of legal wrangling with Pratt and others before, in 2008, the North Carolina copy of the Bill of Rights was officially declared to be property of the state. So, where is it now?
In a vault underneath the state archives building in downtown Raleigh.
"The main concern that we have with having this document on display all the time is fading," Koonts said. "When it was out of the state's custody, it was exposed to a lot of light a lot of natural and fluorescent light. So it is extremely faded in spots and we have been advised by an outside conservator to not have it on permanent display."
But from time to time, it does come out as part of an exhibit, and it usually draws a big crowd – proof that the Bill of Rights can’t belong to one of us, but it can belong to all of us.
For more on how the North Carolina’s copy of the Bill of Rights stayed hidden for 138 years, and how it was proven that a really old piece of parchment really belonged to the state, you can find the answers in the newest episode of Away Message, Our State magazine’s podcast about hard to find people, places, and things. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Stolen Art Watch, Swedish Crown Jewels Stolen, Art Crime Heatwave August 2018

Thieves escape by motorboat after royal jewels heist in Sweden

Two crowns and an orb dating back to the early 1600s stolen from church in Strängnäs, west of Stockholm
Jewel thieves are on the run from police in Sweden after they stole some of the country’s royal jewels from a cathedral before fleeing in a motorboat.
The daring theft occurred at about noon on Tuesday in Strängnäs, west of Stockholm, while the cathedral was open to visitors, and a lunch fair was being held nearby.
The robbers then made their getaway in a motorboat that was waiting just a couple of hundred metres away on Lake Mälaren, Sweden’s third biggest lake, police said.
The local news channel Aftonbladet reported the thieves stole two crowns and an orb, adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls that come from the funeral regalia of Charles IX and Kristina the Elder, dating back to the early 1600s.
Witness Tom Rowell, who is getting married in the cathedral next week, told Aftonbladet he saw two men run from the building, jump into a small white motorboat and speed away.
“We contacted the police and told them and they told us that something had been taken from the cathedral,” he said. “I knew immediately they were burglars because of the way they were behaving.”
“It’s despicable that people would steal from a holy building and a historical building,” said Rowell.
It is believed the thieves fled via the vast system of lakes west of Stockholm. Police have mobilised a huge search operation with a helicopter and boats to find the men and recover the items but have so far been unsuccessful.
“It’s 1-0 to them right now,” Thomas Agnevik, a police spokesman, told Aftonbladet. “We want to spread information and pictures of these items so that they can be identified as stolen objects.”
King Karl IX died in 1611 and his wife Queen Kristina in 1625. The items are priceless and police said that the objects would be very hard to sell on the open market.
“What usually happens with this type of object is that they are recovered sooner or later, because there are very few people who are prepared to handle such items,” Agnevik said. “We have high hopes of getting them back.”
Police and cathedral officials said they did not know the value of the objects that were stolen. “It’s too difficult to translate these things into some kind of value. It’s such a unique object,” said Agnevik.
Catharina Fröjd, who works at Strängnäs cathedral, called the theft “an enormous loss in cultural value and economic value”.
Maria Ellior of the Swedish police’s National Operations Department told Sweden’s TT news agency the items would be “impossible to sell”.

Police release CCTV of suspects in £1m burglary case

Thieves climbed a two-metre high wall to steal antiques from the country home of a multi-millionaire entrepreneur.
The four suspects, who were captured on CCTV, raided the home of Prof Sir Christopher Evans in Bibury, Gloucestershire, on 9 July and took diamond rings, tiaras and bracelets.
The theft had a "devastating" effect on his wife Lady Anne, due to the sentimental nature of the items.
A "substantial cash reward" has been offered for information.
The CCTV footage captured the gang carrying items in a log basket across the grounds before putting them in a silver or grey Audi S5 and heading towards Cirencester.
Antique items taken include diamond rings, gold brooches, a tiara, a Cartier bracelet, a choker, silver candlesticks and three Art Nouveau silver rose bowls.
It is estimated the items stolen in the burglary - which happened between 17:00 and 20:00 on Monday 9 July - have a value of at least £1m.
In a statement, Sir Christopher, an internationally renowned life sciences entrepreneur originally from Port Talbot, said: "The real pain comes from what these stolen items mean and symbolise in our lives.
"Anne's engagement ring was her late father's signet ring - the only thing she has left of him. The diamond ring I bought my wife when our first child was born cost almost our entire savings at that point."
He added the couple had "always taken security around the property very seriously and we have obviously stepped up security with 24-hour dog patrols around the property".
Det Con Faye Satchwell-Bennett, from Gloucestershire Constabulary, said the burglary has had a "marked impact" on the victims, and asked that antiques dealers be on the lookout for any of the items.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Stolen Art Watch, Caravaggio Nativity Lives, Flamming June 2018


Former mobster may hold clue to recovery of stolen Caravaggio

The Nativity was stolen in 1969 and could have been hidden in Switzerland
Hopes of solving one of the worst art crimes in history were reignited last night, after Italian investigators announced they had received new information.
Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence, a Caravaggio masterpiece that was stolen in 1969, could be being hidden in Switzerland after it fell into the hands of organised crime, the head of Italy’s anti-mafia commission said on Thursday.
The new lead on the whereabouts of the 17th-century painting – a depiction of the newborn Christ on a bed of straw, painted in the chiaroscuro technique – came from a former mobster-turned-informant, who revealed to Italian investigators that it had once been held by Gaetano Badalamenti, a Sicilian “boss of bosses” who was known as one of the ringleaders of an infamous heroin trafficking network in the US called the Pizza Operation.
Investigators announced this week that Gaetano Grado, the mafia informant, said Badalamenti had been put in touch with an art dealer in Switzerland after obtaining the work – also known as The Adoration – from another mafia boss. Badalamenti was arrested in 1984 under the leadership of the then US attorney in New York, Rudolph Giuliani, and was accused and convicted of helping to bring $1.65bn in heroin into the US. He died in a Massachusetts hospital in 2004.
The fate of The Nativity has been a subject of speculation for nearly half a century, ever since two criminals stole the painting out of San Lorenzo Oratory in Palermo, where they used razors to cut the painting out of its frame.
Among theories that have captured the imagination of art history buffs is that the painting – which was long believed to have been stolen by elements of the Sicilian mafia – may have been left to rot in a barn and was eaten by rats.
But this week’s news suggested it could yet be recovered.
Rosy Bindi, the head of Italy’s national anti-mafia commission, said new evidence suggested that The Nativity was intact and could be in Switzerland, after being sold to art traffickers there.
“We have collected enough evidence to launch a new investigation and ask the collaboration of foreign authorities, especially to the Swiss ones,” said Bindi. “We hope to find it and bring it back to its home in Palermo.”
The mafia has long been known to have an interest in stealing precious artwork and using it as a form of collateral.
Caravaggio’s masterpiece was thought to have been painted by the old master in Rome and later moved to Sicily.
Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, who has helped transform the Sicilian capital from a mafia stronghold to a European capital of culture, said the theft of the painting had dealt a blow to the city at a time – in 1969 – when it was dominated by mobsters and godfathers.
“Today this city has changed and is demanding back everything the mafia took away from it,” he said. “Even getting back a small piece of it would be considered a victory.”

What’s the motive for museum thefts?

Two recent museum thefts can be taken to illustrate the thinking behind such crimes. One, in Nantes, saw thieves snatch a 16th-century solid gold reliquary containing the preserved heart of a French queen from the Thomas-Dobrée museum. The other, in Bath, involved the theft of Chinese jade and gold from the Museum of East Asian Art.
The Nantes theft was carried out in the night between 13 and 14 April, with the thieves breaking in through a window. Although the loss of the heart of Anne of Brittany, which had only gone back on display on the Tuesday of the preceding week, attracted the majority of attention, the thieves also took a range of gold coins and medals and a gilt sculpture of a Hindu deity – the latter presumably in the mistaken belief that it too was gold. This theft appears to be a prime example of opportunism. The return to display of the reliquary presumably drew the attention of the thieves and they then took the first available opportunity to take it, and other items that appeared valuable to them at the same time. Little planning was presumably carried out if amongst their haul of gold was a gilt sculpture of far lower financial value. The fact that the reliquary was subsequently buried just outside Saint Nazaire (a nearby town), from where it was recovered after police were led to it following two arrests, indicates that it is unlikely that the thieves had thought beyond the initial ‘smash and grab’ element of their crime and had not considered how to dispose of their haul.
In contrast – although superficially similar in that the thieves broke in through a window during the early hours of the morning – the theft from the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath on 17 April appears to have been highly targeted. The pieces taken seem to have been selected based on their quality and cultural significance, rather than simply their material, which ranged from jade to soapstone to zitan wood, or obvious financial value. The thieves made their selection of objects rapidly and fled the scene in under five minutes before the police could arrive, indicating that significant planning must have gone into the robbery. Again in contrast to the Nantes theft, as yet it appears that none of the material stolen has been recovered, nor have any arrests been made.
This is not the first time that a European museum has suffered from what appears to be a targeted theft of Chinese material. Similar thefts have taken place over the last decade in Durham, at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, and at the Château de Fontainebleau. This kind of crime appears to be carried out with a specific view to then selling the pieces stolen to the Chinese market where it is relatively easy to find a buyer, and the chances of a piece being identified are far lower than if it were offered to the Western art market.
Sadly, museums are particularly vulnerable to targeted thefts such as this. Their very nature, with publicly listed catalogues of their collections (the full collection of the Museum of East Asian Art is available online), and outreach programs to ensure that people are aware of their existence and holdings, means that for those who are seeking particular types of item and are prepared to secure them through illicit means they are almost a shop window for criminals. It is essential that museums resist the temptation to keep their collections private, but their public nature does mean that it is also essential to factor in security when planning exhibitions, building works, and storage.
Equally, museums remain vulnerable to opportunistic theft of pieces on display such as appears to have been the case in Nantes. It is rare, but criminals see the pieces within museums as valuable, and thus worth stealing if an opportunity to do so arises. As in this case though, they rarely have a plan for how to turn that value into cash, and thus end up hiding the items when it becomes clear that they are not as easy to fence as they might have hoped.
Ultimately, for the general public, historians, and museums themselves, the outcomes of these thefts are often sadly indistinguishable: the loss of items integral to their collections. Tackling museum theft is dependent upon financial resources for security and policing, but for museums, especially those with lower budgets, an increased awareness of the types of items likely to be liable to targeted theft, and of the risks of opportunistic theft prompted by publicity, is well worth keeping in mind.

Want your stolen portrait back? Bring us £100,000 cash: What gangsters told Francis Bacon after taking his famous likeness, painted by Lucian Freud, from Berlin art gallery 30 years ago

  • The masterpiece Portrait Of Francis Bacon disappeared 30 years ago from Berlin
  • Mail on Sunday can reveal that Bacon received a ransom demand a year later
  • Barry Joule, Bacon's close friend and neighbour in London's South Kensington, has now revealed that the artist received a phone call in his studio from 'a tough-sounding East End man, probably an associate of the Krays' 
It is one of the art world's great unsolved mysteries – the daring theft of Lucian Freud's portrait of fellow artist Francis Bacon.
The masterpiece, Portrait Of Francis Bacon, disappeared without trace after it was removed from its wire frame and spirited out of Berlin's National Gallery 30 years ago.
But The Mail on Sunday can reveal that Bacon received a ransom demand a year later in 1989 and was apparently poised to recover the work – only for the operation to be wrecked by a police blunder.
Portrait Of Francis Bacon was spirited out of Berlin's National Gallery 30 years ago. Pictured: Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud
Portrait Of Francis Bacon was spirited out of Berlin's National Gallery 30 years ago. Pictured: Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud
Barry Joule, Bacon's close friend and neighbour in London's South Kensington, has now revealed that the artist received a phone call in his studio from 'a tough-sounding East End man, probably an associate of the Krays'.
During the 1960s, Bacon fraternised with gangsters, among them Ronnie Kray.
Joule recalls: '[The gangster] told him, 'If you want to get yer face picture back, get £100K together and wait by the phone for a call at noon exactly.' '
Francis called Joule who drove his black Porsche to pick up Bacon from his studio and take him to his flat. Even though he didn't own the painting, Bacon then panicked and stuffed £140,000 into a satchel, reappearing 'sweating and nervous'.
They argued over whether to contact police but Bacon was 'dead set against doing that' because he still felt aggrieved by a 1968 drugs bust involving his then lover, George Dyer.
People look towards the wild west-style wanted poster showing the reward for the return of the portrait of the late British artist Francis Bacon in downtown Berlin June in 2001
People look towards the wild west-style wanted poster showing the reward for the return of the portrait of the late British artist Francis Bacon in downtown Berlin June in 2001
Instead he alerted the head of security at the Tate gallery, which had bought the picture in 1952 from Freud and had loaned it to the German museum in 1988 when it was stolen.
Then they went back to the studio to await the noon call, but it never came. Leaving the studio several hours later the two men spotted 'three undercover policemen' in a Ford Fiesta. Joule said they all had their 'heads buried in newspapers'.
Convinced the gangsters must also have spotted them, Bacon shouted angrily at the officers.
For weeks afterwards, Bacon 'remained paranoid that the Krays and associates would be 'out to get me for grassing to the police',' said Joule, who added: 'If it wasn't for policemen sitting in their car right outside the building, Francis might have got the stolen painting back.' In a recorded interview with Joule three months after the ransom blunder, Bacon spoke of 'how much the police have gone down in my estimation'.
Bacon (pictured) 'remained paranoid that the Krays and associates would be 'out to get me for grassing to the police'
Bacon (pictured) 'remained paranoid that the Krays and associates would be 'out to get me for grassing to the police'
The 7in x 5in oil on copper was one of the few Freud paintings Bacon really liked, so much so he kept a photograph of it in his kitchen.
Freud later plastered Berlin with 'Wanted' posters of the image, offering a £100,000 reward for its recovery so he could include it in a retrospective of his work.
Although the Tate has never claimed the insurance money, because it has hoped to be reunited with the painting, Bacon, who died in 1992, was more pessimistic. 'Most likely it was burnt,' he says on the recording.
The Tate continues to list the painting in its catalogue, simply noting 'not on display'.
In 2004, Joule gave the Tate 1,200 Bacon sketches. They were then valued at about £20million.
He kept about 120 sketches, and he is lending some to an exhibition in Italy, at the Foundation Sorrento museum, in Sorrento, which opens today and runs until October 21.

Full extent of burglary at Bath’s Museum of East Asian Art revealed

With the value of Chinese antiquities on the rise, police suspect the items removed were stolen to order

Some of the objects stolen from the Bath Museum of East Asian Art Avon and Somerset Police
A complete list of the 48 objects stolen from Bath’s Museum of East Asian Art has now been released, following a burglary on 17 April. These details reveal just how serious the loss has been. The stolen items include 22 jades, 10 ceramics and a Tang (618-907AD) marriage mirror. Three other objects were damaged, but not taken.
The burglary occurred at 1.20am, when four masked men broke into the museum, which is in a restored Georgian townhouse in Bath, in south-west England. They entered through a first-floor window, smashing seven display cases.
A police spokesman commented that “due to the items stolen and the speed of the burglary we suspect this to be a targeted attack with the artefacts possibly stolen to order”. The financial value of Chinese antiquities has risen greatly in recent few years due to growing demand in China. The stolen Bath objects could already have been smuggled out to the Far East.
Immediately after the Bath theft, details of six major items were released: a set of 14 gold belt plaques, a jade monkey, a jade sculpture of mandarin ducks, an inlaid wooden box, a soapstone figure of the scholar Dongfang Shuo and a Jizhou stoneware vase. Information on the other 42 pieces has now been released.
In 2012, the Museum of East Asian Art was targeted by three thieves while the building was open to visitors. An alarm sounded and the men fled.
The latest theft has been particularly distressing for Brian McElney, a retired lawyer from Hong Kong who moved near Bath and set up the museum in 1993. With 2,000 items, it is the UK’s only museum dedicated to East and South-East Asian art.
Although the museum reopened on 5 May, the first floor remains closed. A fundraising appeal has been launched to help with the costs of replacing the damaged cases and reopening the display.

Police seek man in connection with Masterpiece fair jewellery theft

The Metropolitan Police are trying to trace the whereabouts of a man wanted in connection with a high-value theft of jewellery at last year’s ‘Masterpiece London’ fair.
Masterpiece fair jewellery 2342NEDIa 09-05-18.jpg
Police have released this image of a man they are trying to trace in connection the theft of three pieces of jewellery at last year’s ‘Masterpiece London’ fair.
They have released an image of the man they believe to be Vinko Osmakcic, a Croatian national thought to be responsible for a number of high-value diamond thefts throughout Europe.
At the 2017 Masterpiece fair at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, three rings were stolen with a combined value of over £2m from the stand of Switzerland-based jewellery dealer Boghossian.
Masterpiece fair london
The ‘Masterpiece London’ fair takes place annually in Chelsea.
Det Sgt Chris Taylor from Kensington and Chelsea CID, who is leading the investigation, said: “This was a well-planned and audacious theft committed in the middle of a busy art fair.
"We are re-releasing the image of Mr Osmakcic in an attempt to trace him. It is highly likely that Mr Osmakcic may be out of the UK, possibly in Europe. He may also be known by the following names: Vinko Tomic or Juro Markelic.”
The items taken were a cushion-shaped diamond ring, a vivid yellow cushion-shaped diamond ring encased in smaller oval and round-shaped diamonds, an emerald-cut diamond ring with purple and pink stones, and four pear-shaped diamonds. All three rings have diamond-encrusted bands.

Six-day remand for suspected ‘Pink Panther’ member

A man, 48, suspected to be a member of the international ‘Pink Panther’ gang, was remanded  for six days by the Limassol District Court on Saturday.
On Friday, police arrested the man from Montenegro for armed robbery on a Limassol jewellery shop almost ten years ago.  An international arrest warrant was also issued for a second man regarding the same case.
Authorities issued a European arrest warrant for the 48-year-old suspected of robbing €212,000 worth of jewellery from the shop on February 28, 2009.
The man was initially arrested in Spain, on March 1, and following the cooperation of the Spanish authorities, Cyprus’ Interpol, and the Limassol police, he was brought to the island on Friday afternoon, where he was arrested.
Police are continuing their investigations.
Interpol ran an operation on the Pink Panthers gang from 2007 to 2016, and according to the international authority the network is suspected to have carried out approximately 380 armed robberies from 1999 to 2015.
The organisation is believed to have targeted high-end jewellery stores, and the combined value of their robberies is estimated to have been approximately €334 million.

Stolen £1m painting returned to owners

British Art & Artists - Painting - Stanley Spencer - Cookham - 1932
Sir Stanley Spencer at work in his studio in Cookham (PA)

A £1 million painting stolen six years ago has been returned to its owners after it was discovered in a drug dealer's den.
The work, by Sir Stanley Spencer and titled Cookham from Englefield, was taken from the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Berkshire, in 2012.
Its whereabouts remained a mystery until police arrested Harry Fisher, 28, in June last year after finding a kilogram of cocaine and £30,000 in cash in his Mercedes.
Officers discovered the artwork under a bed next to three kilograms of cocaine and 15,000 ecstasy tablets when they searched his flat in Kingston-upon-Thames, west London.
A further raid on his family home in Fulham found more Class A drugs, making a total street value of £450,000, and £40,000 in cash.
Fisher was jailed for eight years and eight months at Kingston Crown Court in October, having pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and handling stolen goods, Scotland Yard said.
His passenger at the time of arrest, Zak Lal, 32, of Rochester, Kent, was jailed for five years and eight months after admitting conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, acquiring criminal property and possession of an offensive weapon, police said.
Stolen painting discovery
Jailed: Harry Fisher (left) and Zak Lal (Met Police/PA)
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the painting's owners, who were "devastated" at the loss, were finally reunited with the artwork last month.
Arts Minister Michael Ellis said: "Spencer is one our most renowned painters and a true great of the 20th century. It is wonderful that this story has had a happy ending and the painting has been returned to its rightful owners."
Stolen painting discovery
The £1 million stolen painting by Sir Stanley Spencer (Met Police/PA)
Detective Constable Sophie Hayes, of the Metropolitan Police's art and antiques unit, said: "The art and antiques unit was delighted to assist with the recovery and return of this important painting.
"The circumstances of its recovery underline the links between cultural heritage crime and wider criminality.
"The fact that the painting was stolen five years before it was recovered did not hinder a prosecution for handling stolen goods, demonstrating the Met will pursue these matters wherever possible, no matter how much time has elapsed."
Described by the Stanley Spencer Gallery gallery as one of "our greatest British artists", Sir Stanley often used the Berkshire village of Cookham as inspiration for his work during a 45-year career.
He died in 1959.