From Thursday's Globe and Mail
August 21, 2008 at 3:59 AM EDT
VANCOUVER — The RCMP have confirmed that money was paid out in their investigation and recovery of stolen art from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, but they won't say to whom the money went or where it came from, and they won't reveal the amount.
"I can't get into specifics other than to say it is not uncommon during a course of an investigation that a sum of money is paid for information," RCMP Constable Annie Linteau said yesterday.
The revelation followed an announcement yesterday that the final two missing works, both by iconic Haida artist Bill Reid, had been recovered by police - although one is not intact.
While police would not say whether the money was paid to an informant or someone believed to be involved in the theft, search warrant documents in the case indicate an attempt to claim the reward by an anonymous tipster - and a possible attempt by a suspect.
According to the documents, a suspect carrying a "full looking" Adidas bag made calls to the University of British Columbia (home of the Museum of Anthropology) from a pay phone on June 4 while under surveillance. The warrant states a belief that the person "was attempting to make contact with an unknown party at UBC, with whom he could discuss the stolen items and a possible reward for their return."
The documents also reveal an anonymous tipster - with a criminal background - was trying to obtain the $50,000 reward money offered by UBC and had hired a lawyer to negotiate the deal.
Constable Linteau said the money that was paid out was not the $50,000 reward, or the unspecified increase in the reward offered by the university's insurer.
The museum was broken into early on May 24 and 15 works were stolen - 12 of them created by Mr. Reid. All but one of the stolen Reid works were crafted from gold, leading to fears that the works might be melted down for their gold content (three gold-plated works of Mexican jewellery were also stolen).
Ten of the stolen Reid works and all of the Mexican pieces were recovered in raids at homes in Burnaby and New Westminster on June 8 and 9. Three people were taken in for questioning, but were released without being charged.
Constable Linteau said yesterday that RCMP are in the process of completing a report to Crown counsel in which they will be recommending charges "against an individual or individuals."
The two other stolen Reid works - a gold eagle brooch and an argillite pipe panel - were found on July 23 and Aug. 11, respectively. A five-centimetre section of the argillite panel is missing, and police are appealing for its recovery.
There is a passionate debate within cultural property circles over whether to offer a ransom for stolen art.
"I have mixed feelings on paying out rewards," Bonnie Czegledi, an art and cultural property lawyer in Toronto, said yesterday. "Right now there's a business whereby criminals are actually stealing with the hopes of being paid ransom rewards for what they steal.
"However, when there are only dead ends in a case, what do we do?"
Vancouver cultural philanthropist Michael Audain says he believes offering a reward can be necessary. "It is a fact that insurance companies are often successful in negotiating the recovery of stolen art works where law enforcement agencies may not be."
UBC spokesman Scott Macrae says museum staff are "absolutely overjoyed" with the way things have turned out.
"At the end of May, the prospect of receiving all of this back - with the exception of that piece of the argillite pipe - wouldn't have really been believable. So going from the fears that this could be melted down to recovering it has been just spectacular."
Bill Reid’s Stolen Art Finally Recovered
By Greg Joyce
The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER – They're all back – and all but one intact.
Three months after a stunning heist, the last two priceless works by renowned Haida artist Bill Reid have been recovered after they were stolen from a museum at the University of B.C.
“People at the museum are just overjoyed at getting this material back,” university spokesman Scott Macrae said Wednesday.
“There were fears that it could have been melted down.”
One item, a carved pipe, is broken and about five centimetres of the artwork – made from a black slate-like material called argillite – is still missing.
“Given Bill Reid's relationship with the Museum of Anthropology, the special connection with the material, to get it all back with the exception of this missing piece, is almost everything that could have been hoped for,” said Macrae.
The carved pipe is broken and about five centimetres of the artwork – made from a black slate-like material called argillite – is still missing.
RCMP Const. Annie Linteau said the Mounties aren't saying where the pipe or an intact eagle brooch made of gold were found, except that it was “in the Lower Mainland” along with the other pieces that were recovered in June.
Three people were arrested in June after 12 pieces by the Haida master were stolen – along with three artworks from Mexico – in the daring May 24 theft at the museum.
The gold eagle was recovered July 23 and the pipe Aug. 11, but Linteau said police didn't release the information at the time because of the ongoing investigation.
The three people arrested were released without charges but Linteau said the police report to Crown counsel will recommend charges against one or more people.
She also suggested at least one person connected to the theft is in custody on another matter.
“They are not in custody in relation to this investigation.”
The museum is set to close for major renovations at the end of August, said Macrae, and the Reid artwork, as well as all other art at the museum, won't be on display until March 2009.
The building will be bigger and will allow the museum “to work more closely with our aboriginal partners,” said Macrae.
Museum staff will also be undertaking a thorough examination of the recovered pieces.
“They are intact but whether there are some scratches and that sort of thing remains to be seen,” said Macrae.
UBC has increased security personnel and conducted a risk assessment to ensure appropriate security measures are in place, he said.
“Of course, for reasons of security, we need to keep those details to ourselves.”
Three Mexican jewelry pieces, also stolen and heavily damaged, remain in police hands, said Linteau.
Reid's most well-known work is a sculpture entitled the Spirit of Haida Gwaii.
It can be seen on the $20 bill, and versions of it are on display at the international terminal at Vancouver International Airport, and the Canadian Embassy in Washington.
The museum's expansion project will increase the size of the facility by 50 per cent and has a budget of $55.5 million.
Included in the expansion plans are a new exhibition gallery to allow the museum to bring major travelling shows to Vancouver.
Art Hostage comments:
Still many questions to be answered, even if the answers prove to be embarrassing !!
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