Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Leonardo Da Vinci Madonna, Week 6 !!

Da Vinci painting 'handed over in pub car park'

A stolen Leonardo Da Vinci painting was handed over to a private investigator in a pub car park, a court has heard.

The Madonna of the Yarnwinder began its journey back to Scotland in 2007, four years after it was stolen from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire.

Robert Graham, 57, of Lancashire, told Edinburgh High Court he met an underworld figure in a Liverpool car park and paid £350,000 for the canvas.

Mr Graham is one of five men who deny trying to extort £4.25m for the canvas.

The private eye was giving evidence as the trial moved into its sixth week.

He insisted that everything he did was "legal and lawful" and denied that anyone had ever threatened the safety of the painting.

He described how his partner in Crown Private Investigations, John Doyle, had been the first to hear about the possibility of being involved in the return of the artwork.

The pair went to solicitor Marshall Ronald for advice and learned there was supposed to be a reward or finder's fee of £1m.

"We thought we could live with that," Mr Graham told the court.

Mr Ronald met a man he believed was acting for the Duke - but was really part of a police sting operation - and came back to say £2m was on offer.

"I thought it was fantastic. It was twice as much as my highest hope," Mr Graham said.

He told defence solicitor John Keenan: "We thought that if we were very lucky and everything went well we would end up with £50,000 each which was fantastic wages."

Mr Graham said he had hoped to go to Drumlanrig Castle to personally hand over the Madonna painting to its owner, the Duke of Buccleuch, in a blaze of publicity.

Both he and Mr Doyle had insisted on publicity as part of the deal, as it could have revived the fortunes of "Stolen Stuff Re-united", a loss-making website they ran together.

"We just thought it would be the best advert," Mr Graham told the court.

"You couldn't buy an advert like that. If you could get a Da Vinci back, you could get anything back."

The arrangement led to him travelling to the pub car park in Hale with £350,000 in the boot of his Jaguar to hand to an underworld figure who was in touch with the people who had the painting.

Some hours later the man known to the trial only as Karl returned with the painting, covered by a white sheet, in a sponge-lined container.

'On her way'

After a phone call to Mr Ronald to say "The Lady is on her way home" Mr Graham and Mr Doyle drove north, but rain and traffic problems forced them to pull into the Lockerbie Manor Hotel.

The following morning they took photos of the painting with throwaway cameras bought from the local Tesco.

The painting was later delivered the the Glasgow offices of law firm HBJ Gateley Wareing where it was seized during a police raid.

On trial alongside Mr Graham are Marshall Ronald, 53, and John Doyle, 61, also from Lancashire, and Calum Jones, 45 from Renfrewshire and David Boyce, 63, from Lanarkshire.

They are not accused of the robbery.

The trial continues.

Da Vinci plot accused 'over the moon' as reward soared

Published Date: 07 April 2010

A MAN told a court yesterday that he was "over the moon" when an expected £50,000 reward for returning a stolen Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece rose almost fivefold. Robert Graham said the increased figure had nothing to do with a ransom plot.

"No threats were ever used at any time," he told the High Court in Edinburgh.

Graham also said he was proud to have played a part in returning the £20 million Madonna of the Yarnwinder to its owner, the Duke of Buccleuch. The painting was stolen in 2003 from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire.

Graham, 57, said he had been a publican in Liverpool and he and John Doyle, 61, also ran an online company, Stolen Stuff Reunited, through which people could advertise lost items.

Marshall Ronald, 53, a solicitor from Skelmersdale, Lancashire, set up the business for them and they went to him when a man, "J", made contact about the possibility of returning the stolen painting. J and an associate, Frank, were intermediaries for someone who was holding the painting.

Graham and Doyle wanted to know if it could be returned legally, and if there was any reward.

They had heard of a figure of £1m, and the holder of the painting wanted £700,000 to surrender it.

Graham said Ronald believed it was feasible, but he wanted advice on Scots law and the three of them attended a meeting in Glasgow with solicitors Calum Jones, 45, and David Boyce, 63.

The Crown alleges that, as part of a plot to hold the painting to ransom, Ronald threatened to an undercover policeman that "volatile individuals" would "do something very silly" if the police were informed.

Graham said: "He mentioned it once (at the meeting]. He had been corrected, and we thought that would be the end of it." He had heard of £1m and had thought £700,000 would be needed to pay the "holder" of the painting and the rest shared between him, Doyle, Ronald, J and Frank, with some left for legal fees.

"We had thought if we were very lucky and everything went well, we would end up with £50,000 each, which was fantastic wages," said Graham. Ronald told him there had been an offer of a £2m reward.

"I was over the moon. I thought it was fantastic, twice as much as our highest hopes," said Graham. His cut was to be £235,000.

Graham told the court Ronald had £350,000 in cash delivered to him, and he handed over the money to J at a pub near Liverpool. Some hours later, J returned to the pub and gave him the painting.

Graham and Doyle drove with it to Scotland, spending the night in a hotel in Lockerbie, and going next morning to a meeting in Glasgow, where the painting was to be verified as genuine.

Ronald, Graham, Doyle, Jones and Boyce deny conspiring to extort £4.25m for the safe return of the painting.

The trial continues

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