Monday, November 28, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Pink Panthers Fatal Strike


Jeweller dead in what could be Pink Panthers raid

Fears have been raised that the notorious Pink Panthers gang has struck after a French jeweller was shot dead in a robbery this weekend.

Four masked men brandishing Klashnikovs and stun grenades burst into upmarket jeweller Unik in Cannes on Saturday evening. The men ordered the four people in the shop to lie on the ground before smashing up cabinets with baseball bats.

Before making their escape on motorbikes, with jewellery and cash from the store, the gang shot the store manager in the head with a single bullet. The man received first aid attention but died within an hour of being shot.

French police are claiming that the raid is almost identical to another robbery in Cannes two years ago that is believed to have been carried out by notorious eastern European robbery gang known as The Pink Panthers that specialises in robberies at jewellery stores. The robbery two years ago was carried out by armed men wearing Hawaiian shirts who robbed a Cartier store and used motorbikes to escape the scene with £13 million of jewellery.

Tribute to murdered jeweller - In Cannes, a minute’s silence was observed at this morning’s local council meeting, in tribute to the jeweller shot dead on Saturday in the avenue Francis-Tonner. Four armed, masked men forced customers in the Unik boutique to get down on the floor as they robbed the premises. The 42-year-old boutique owner, Thierry Unik, was shot dead during the raid. Police say the robbers, riding two motorbikes, were spotted on videosurveillance cameras heading in the direction of La Roquette-sur-Siagne. The interior minister said this morning that he would be meeting with jewellery industry professionals – armed attacks against whom have increased by over 30 per cent since last year.

Dragan Mikic suspect number one

Breaking News.........Pink Panther Rifat Hadziahmetovic, who was jailed for Ten years back in September 2011 has allegedly escaped from jail in Japan......more to follow

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Stolen Art Watch Filla Filched, Czech Mate !!


Prized works by Czech painter Emil Filla stolen

In the same week, the avant-garde artist's work makes auction record

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Prized-works-by-Czech-painter-Emil-Filla-stolen/25127

Prague. One of the Czech Republic’s most famed Cubist painters is dominating the country’s headlines this week. Emil Filla, a leader in Prague’s avant-garde and an early Cubist painter, has been at the centre of three separate stories, including a theft of his works and a record setting auction .

First, on Friday 18 November, four of Filla’s works were stolen in the early morning hours from the Peruc Chateau, located about 50 km northwest of Prague, which houses a permanent exhibition of Filla’s works and where the artist spent several years after the second world war. According to Alica Stefancikova, the exhibition’s curator, the alarm system, which is directly connected to the Peruc police station, sounded at 4:04am on Friday morning. Although police arrived at the chateau within ten minutes, the thieves had already fled the scene.

The four oil paintings, all from the 1940s with the exception of one earlier painting, are estimated to be worth 50m to 80m Czech crowns, and the paintings are uninsured. “We preferred to invest in the preventative protection of the collections,” Stefancikova told The Art Newspaper after the theft. Besides an attempt to steal the works in 1992, when the perpetrator was arrested, no other attempts have been documented. The stolen works include Still Life With a Fruit Basket and Clarinet (Zatisi s klarinetem a kosikem ovoce), 1948, Woman with Picture Cards (Zena s kartami), 1946, Still Life with a fruit bowl (Zatisi s misami ovoce), 1946, and Blind man (Slepec), 1926.

According to reports in the Czech press, several frames were discovered in the nearby village of Bysen on Sunday 20 November. Whether they belong to the missing paintings is yet to be determined, according to Stefancikova.

At the same time, one of Filla’s works set a record on 20 November as one of the top 20 most expensive paintings ever sold at auction on the domestic scene. Dating from 1911, Filla’s Comforter (Utesitel) went for 11m crowns, almost double the starting price, at a sale held by Galerie Art Praha at the Hilton Hotel in Prague. Last year, Filla’s Still Life with a Bottle of Cherry (Zatisi s lahvi Cherry), 1914, sold for 16.25m crowns, ranking it as the highest-priced Filla work sold at a domestic auction. His Sculptress in the Studio (Socharka v ateleru) was among several Czech avant-garde works that brought Sotheby’s in London more than £11m, double the estimate, at an auction in June of this year.

Finally, on Tuesday 22 November, Filla’s 1913 canvas Two Women (along with The Dancer, a painting by Vincenc Benes and a bronze statue by Otto Gutfreund) was returned to the Czech Republic after having been seized while on loan in Vienna this past May as a result of a multi-billion crown claim against the state by a blood plasma firm. An Austrian appeals court refused to recognise the claim. Although the Filla painting has been returned to the Moravian Gallery in Brno (and the two other works to the National Gallery in Prague), Diag Human, the blood plasma firm who is behind the almost 20-year-long arbitration dispute, may challenge the final verdict according to a report on Cesky Rozhlas (Czech Radio).

As a result of the claims made by Diag Human, the Czech Ministry of Culture issued a ban on the loaning of art and cultural artefacts to international exhibitions this spring. Beyond a loss to the public sector of 1.2m crowns in six months, according to the Czech Radio report, the Czech Republic will be unable to participate in 58 international exhibitions in London, Paris and Houston, among other cities, which were slated to receive more than 1,000 works as loans this year and in 2012.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, The Chirac Diamond Falcon


Theft at the former French president Museum

Chirac Diamond Facon Flies Nest

On the night of 19 November, a gold falcon was stolen from the Musée du président Jacques Chirac. The museum located in the village of Sarran in Corrèze, exhibits gifts offered to the former French president Jacques Chirac, when he was in office. The museum collection includes approximately 5,000 gifts that the former president received during his diplomatic trips, as well as official foreign politics and ambassador visits in France.

The stolen work of art was a gift from the Saudi Arabian government. It is the first theft that occurred in the museum since its opening in 2000 and authorities say it was probably committed by professionals. It is believed that the thieves forced their way into the museum, by breaking the lock of the door, and got out in less than two minutes. Only the yellow gold falcon, estimated at €152,000, was taken which is not the most expensive piece of the museum collection, but it was certainly the most flashy. It is decorated with 1,400 precious jewels (ruby, sapphire, etc.), but mostly diamonds.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Calne Down Dear, Hot Antiques Recovered


Calne drug raid nets large bike/Antiques haul

Armed police found more than they bargained for when they raided a supposed drug den in Calne – a bumper hoard of motorcycles and antiques which police believe have been stolen.

Police attended an address in Anchor Road on Friday after a tip-off from residents that cannabis was being cultivated inside. When the occupants refused to answer, police smashed through the door and found two men inside.

They found what appeared to be drug cultivation taking place inside a cupboard, a significant amount of material believed to be cannabis being dried, and suspected class A drugs.

They said they also found the house ‘packed’ with pushbikes and motorcycle parts, as well as antiques.

Two men were arrested on suspicion of drug possession and theft and have been released on police bail.

Sergeant Phil Connor, of Calne Police, said: “Police executed a warrant under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Officers from Wiltshire Police’s crime team, along with firearms officers and a police dog, attended, but the residents refused to answer so the door was forced.

“It appears cultivation had been taking place inside a cupboard and we also located what we believe to be class A drugs. Police have seized a substantial amount of property believed to be stolen and inquiries are ongoing.”

Stolen antiques hoard discovered in Shrewsbury

A hoard of antiques believed to have been stolen from Shropshire homes has been found at a property in Shrewsbury.

A police search discovered items such as an Indian sword, a set of silver butter knives, and a suitcase full of 78 records.

Det Sgt Chris Hughes said the items could have been stolen from anywhere in Shropshire, but most likely from the Shrewsbury area in recent weeks.

A 19-year-old man was arrested on Thursday and later released on bail.

Mr Hughes, from the burglary unit at West Mercia Police, said: "Some of the items are quite valuable and I imagine would be of sentimental value. I am hoping the rightful owners will come forward."

Police are continuing to investigate the burglaries.

Antiques worth £1,500 stolen

A NUMBER of antiques, thought to be worth £1,500, have been stolen from a vehicle in Redditch The items were in the boot of the silver Daewoo Tacuma, which was broken into in Cyprus Avenue, Astwood Bank, between 10pm on Monday, November 21 and 7.30am on Tuesday, November 22.

Taken was a Beswick Highland bull figure, two Suzie Cooper coffee sets - one from the late 1930s and the other from the 1960s, four plates, a Crown Devon figure of a little girl in green which dated from the 19th century, a large Victorian hand painted lamp and other items.

The items were wrapped in bubble wrap and were in plastic and cardboard boxes.

The owners had been planning to auction them to raise money to buy Christmas presents and only realised they had been stolen when they went to have them valued and found the boot empty.

Antique shop hit by thieves in Chipping Campden

A NUMBER of items were stolen from an antiques shop in Chipping Campden at the weekend.

Stuart House Antiques on the High Street was broken into at about 3.15am on Sunday and numerous pieces of antique crockery were damaged.

Thieves made off with items worth up to £3,000, including silver-plated cutlery, toast racks, fish slices and cruet sets.

Police believe offenders reversed a vehicle into the doors of the premises, forcing them open before leaving the scene in a vehicle towards Stratford.

Burglar raided Kidderminster antique dealer's home

A BURGLAR who made a night-time raid on the home of a Kidderminster antique dealer has been jailed for 27 months at Worcester Crown Court.

Martin Gwynne also broke into a Bromsgrove house and was eventually arrested after being seen on the roof of a school.

Gwynne, 39, of Oak Road, Catshill, Bromsgrove, who pleaded guilty, was said to have problems with heroin.

His first victim was William Arris on July 16 in Chester Road North, Kidderminster, said Stephen Davies, prosecuting. Items including jewellery, binoculars and ornaments were stolen.

Police were alerted next day by a report that Gwynne was trying to sell the stolen items at an antiques centre in Kidderminster and had also gone to Cash Converters. All the stolen objectsd had been recovered.

Earlier that month, the home of Dennis Williams in Golden Cross Lane, Bromsgrove, was burgled and a 20 dollar Canadian bill was taken. This was later found in Gwynne's possession and he admitted handling the stolen note.

In August, Gwynne was spotted on the roof of Meadows First School in Bromsgrove by the caretaker. He was arrested by police and claimed he had only gone on the roof out of curiosity but he later admitted that he had entered five classrooms intending to steal metal cable.

His previous convictions included drug use and shoplifting.

Jason Aris, defending, said Gwynne had immediately confessed and had already spent 105 days in custody, which could be knocked off his sentence.

This was confirmed by Judge Patrick Thomas QC, who said he was surprised by the stoicism of William Arris, who had professed annoyance rather than distress in his victim impact statement.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Cezanne From Ashmolean, Oxford Recovered, Maybe !!


The painting - Auvers-sur-Oise - is an oil on canvas, dated between 1879 and 1882.
Latest on Ashmolean Cezanne 2015:
http://arthostage.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/stolen-art-watch-ashmolean-cezanne-bbc.html

Ashmolean Cezanne Recovered ?????

Whispers that the Cezanne stolen from the Ashmolean Museum Oxford during New Year Celebrations 2000 has been recovered.

The gang struck at the Ashmolean Museum - part of Oxford University - as New Year revellers were thronging the streets. The raider lowered himself down through a skylight and lifted the Cezanne with ease.

It was the same thief who had intended to steal the Alfred Jewel but was thwarted by Bertie Smalls nephew telling Police, (Scotland Yard Art Detective Charlie Hill) about that plan, so he decided to steal the Cezanne instead on Millennium 2000.

Read this article from 2001 to see the aforementioned Cezanne thief referred to at the end of the article by Charlie Hill Art Detective:

Watching the detective

If you need to track down a stolen masterpiece, call investigator Charlie Hill. John Wilson goes undercover (no cameras please...) with the scourge of international art thievery.
A west London Greek-Cypriot restaurant on a sultry Saturday night. A family place. Three birthday parties are in full swing, toasts are joined from every part of the room, plates are hurled to the floor and the man on the synthesizer pumps out a steady medley of Hellenic hits.
If Thomas Crown really existed, you wouldn't find him here. Neither would you bump into Dr No, Captain Nemo or Raffles on their nights off from international art thievery. But according to my dining companion, Charlie Hill, one of the world's leading private investigators of stolen treasures, this ostentatious suburban eatery is a favourite hang-out for a pool of villains who marvel at these fictional thieves' taste for Monet rather than money.
'They've seen the movies - Pierce Brosnan in the Thomas Crown remake or Sean Connery in Entrapment - and think it's cool, sexy,' Hill tells me. 'Look, even the less intelligent ones realise they can't sell a Monet or Cézanne to the local art dealer or ask Sotheby's to get the best offer. But that doesn't mean the work is worthless. It's about kudos. If you arrive for a drugs deal with masterpiece in your boot, the other team know you're serious.'
I head for the lavatory to check whether the tiny mini-disc recorder hidden in the lining of my jacket is still working and to make sure the button-hole microphone is picking up anything we're saying above the plate-smashing and drunken cheers. I rejoin Charlie Hill, try to affect a look of nonchalant disdain and not spill hummus down my shirt as I steer the pin mike in the direction of his stage whispers. Who are those heavies in the sports jackets?
'Serbs; one of them I know well. He doesn't know me luckily, except by reputation.' The crop-headed man in the fawn three-button is aware of our attention, but probably doesn't realise he has been identified as an international art thief by a private investigator.
'He was recently doing time in a Belgian prison for stealing a Van Dyck,' says Hill casually. 'Actually, it turned out to be the work of a student of Van Dyck, so when he was arrested and then found out it wasn't even the real thing, he felt doubly ripped off. I didn't know he was out already.'
The company the Serb chooses to keep - in the restaurant that will remain nameless for health and safety reasons - is multinational. Amid the Greek families celebrating noisily lurk small groups of middle-aged men, hunched conspiratorially across tables and casting an occasional wary eye round the vast room. This used to be part of Hill's uncharted territory when he was a detective with the Metropolitan Police's art and antiques squad. Working undercover, Hill would pitch up at the bar to make casual conversation with whoever was lurking.
'To them, I was a bar-room bore who worked in insurance. Very often I'd be offered jewellery and antiques. Then the eastern European crowd arrived and there'd be talk of religious icons and antiques, looted from churches. That stuff goes on here all the time, but occasionally you get the big fish, the ones who are looking to offload a painting, maybe worth millions.'
Hill's greatest claim to fame, though one he couldn't publicly take the credit for at the time, is as the undercover Scotland Yard art and antiques squad chief who recovered Edvard Munch's The Scream from the thieves who raided the national museum in 1994.
Cheekily, the robbers had celebrated their heist by leaving in the space vacated by that icon of existential angst a postcard depicting three men doubled up in mirth at some private joke. On the card was scrawled the message: 'Thanks for the poor security.'
The thieves stopped laughing when Hill, posing as a bow-tied representative of the Getty Museum and carrying a £500,000 'ransom' in a suitcase, was handed the painting and called in Norwegian police and Interpol officers to complete the sting.
Though Hill is quick to dismiss the James Bond parallels, his story - of fooling the robbers with a steady patter of Californian-accented art-speak, of seeing the Munch carried up from the cellar of a fjord-side chalet, of verifying its authenticity by the distinctive wax-splatter on one corner of the canvas ('Munch had blown out a candle as he was painting it') - is gripping stuff.
The Scream is back at home in Oslo. For a while, it joined a virtual gallery that, if collected together in a single room, would shame the Tates, Guggenheims and Gettys: 355 Picassos, 250 Chagalls, 180 Dalis, 120 Rembrandts and 115 Renoirs are among the staggering list of missing masterpieces.
Hill talks of stolen paintings, particularly Cézanne's Auvers-sur-Oise, lifted from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in an audacious millennium eve raid, Titian's Rest on the Flight to Egypt, taken from Longleat House, and two Turners, now in the hands of Serbian gangsters after being snatched from a Frankfurt gallery while on loan, with the passion of an art collector.
Acres of empty wall space has been left in galleries and homes around the world. Helping to refill those gaps gives him a purpose in life, Hill claims. The Charles Hill Partnership is an international detective agency specialising in tracing stolen art. Its website offers investigative services and advice on 'sensitive problems that fall outside the scope of mainstream advisers'.
Having served with the Met for 20 years, Charlie Hill knows that the police, whose scaled-down art squad now investigates art crime only within the London region, work within tightly reined financial and ethical limitations. By talking directly to the villains, and by making it clear to others within the art-crime community that informers will be paid, Hill knows he's wandering into tricky legal territory.
The fine ethical line that distinguishes a reward, which could end up in the hands of close associates of those holding the loot, and a ransom, which all agree must never be paid, is often difficult to discern.
There's £100,000 of Lord Bath's money up for grabs if anyone will point him in the exact direction of Titian's Rest on the Flight to Egypt, which was ripped from the walls of his ancestral home in 1995. It's widely accepted by art-theft investigators that the early sixteenth-century Italian masterpiece once admired by visitors to Longleat House is currently in the hands of new curators within the travelling community.
People within the same community, maybe neighbours or cousins, are also looking after Jean-Baptiste Oudry's The White Duck on behalf of Lord Cholmondeley until it's returned to Houghton Hall in Norfolk. Though he won't go into detail about the investigation, Hill reveals that he has spoken to those holding the Titian, though any appeal for return on aesthetic or altruistic grounds is hopeless. 'They just wouldn't understand,' he sighs.
The formation of the Charles Hill Partnership meant that the 'art-risk consultant' had to break cover after years in the murky sub-strata of criminal investigation. Hill used to adopt a variety of pseudonyms and guises, his favourite involving the bow-tie and the American accent. He preferred not to be photographed for this article.
Sipping Greek wine and dipping into his meze in the west London thieves' eatery, Hill now looks every inch the successful insurance salesman, in pastel colours, thick-rimmed specs and middle-aged spread.
The Charles Hill business website includes a CV that refers to a former career as a soldier. 'Oh, yes, that was Vietnam,' he explains, deadpan. 'Really?' 'Yes, really.'
The son of an American intelligence officer, Hill was born in Britain, moved to Washington as a boy and, after sitting out high-school classes in the company of a young, wannabe journalist called Al Gore, enlisted for the army.
While teenage contemporaries were marching on the Pentagon, Charlie Hill was stalking the jungles near the Cambodian border with a M16 in one hand and a book in the other. For the year he served with the 173rd Airborne Brigade - 'shooting people, being shot at, but never getting hit' - he was nicknamed 'the Professor' and regarded as a talisman by colleagues who marvelled at his ability to avoid the bullets.
Having volunteered for Vietnam to 'satisfy my intellectual curiosity', Hill won a Fulbright scholarship to Trinity College, Dublin, to study modern history. Spiritual curiosity nudged him next in the direction of a theology degree at King's College, London. Hill then joined the police. He worked undercover with various crime squads from the mid-Eighties, most notably the art and antiques squad, which, between 1994 and 1996, he led as chief superintendent.
As we talk, Hill glances around. He was introduced to this restaurant by a safe-cracker 12 years ago. In the old days, alongside the thieves, fraudsters and drug dealers, you'd find half of the CID sniffing round for leads, rubbing shoulders with the rogues.
'Police work? It's all about paper-work and conviction targets now,' he sniffs. Just as he begins to head off down memory lane, Hill interrupts himself. He has spotted another face, a man whose plans to lift the Alfred Jewel from the Ashmolean were rumbled.
The plan was resurrected on 31 December 1999, with Cézanne's Auvers-sur-Oise as the new target. The execution was perfect: an elegant drop through the skylights, a smokescreen using a grenade and a hand-held electric fan to fill the gallery with dense white smoke, all timed to coincide with millennial fireworks on the streets of Oxford.
'If that guy hasn't got the Cézanne, he knows a man who does,' says Hill.
As we head for door, I'm conscious that the wire of my mike has slipped and is swinging loose. I glance nervously around. Ashmolean man is laughing into his beer at some private joke.
More to follow.........................

Stolen Art Watch, Da Vinci Madonna Siren Song Still Sings

Intrigue, deception, greed and the extraordinary story of how two private eyes tracked down a stolen £30m da Vinci to a Liverpool pub car park

The two men pulled up in the driveway of the two-star country hotel, looking for all the world like travelling salesmen stopping off for a night’s rest between appointments. But the rectangular package on the back seat of their car contained something rather more valuable than catalogues or brochures.

Only once they were in the privacy of a locked room, the curtains firmly closed, did private detectives Robbie Graham and Jack Doyle dare to unwrap the treasure they had just rescued from the criminal underworld. And then they just sat and stared at it in wonder, scarcely able to believe what they were seeing.

On that October night in 2007, they took snapshots of themselves posing next to it, using a disposable camera bought from Tesco. The photographs show them smiling proudly as they show off their booty against the background of a pink velour headboard, flowery duvet and cheap hotel teacup.

You could barely imagine a more incongruous setting for an oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

Extraordinary story: Robbie Graham, and his friend John Doyle, have told the tale of how they ended up becoming involved in the retrieval of the £30m <span class=da Vinci masterpiece Madonna Of The Yarnwinder " class="blkBorder" height="460" width="634">

Extraordinary story: Robbie Graham, and his friend John Doyle, have told the tale of how they ended up becoming involved in the retrieval of the £30m da Vinci masterpiece Madonna Of The Yarnwinder

Posing up: John Doyle sits alongside the priceless painting in the incongruous surroundings of a hotel room during the operation to retrieve it

Posing up: John Doyle sits alongside the priceless painting in the incongruous surroundings of a hotel room during the operation to retrieve it

Thankfully, the Madonna Of The Yarnwinder has found more appropriate settings, returning to public view in Edinburgh in 2009 and now part of the sold-out da Vinci exhibition at London’s National Gallery.

This show promises to be the biggest event in the gallery’s history featuring, as it does, nine of only 15 da Vinci paintings believed to be still in existence. This impressive tally might well have been reduced by one if not for the most bizarre rescue operation in art history.

The story begins eight years ago at Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway, the ancestral seat of 80-year-old John Scott, the 9th Duke of Buccleuch.

He divided his time between his three stately homes in Scotland and England, travelling in a Volvo painted with the black and gold Buccleuch livery and invariably taking with him the family’s most prized heirloom — the Madonna Of The Yarnwinder.

As his son Richard Scott says: ‘The painting was hugely emotionally important for all of us, but for my father in particular.’

Thought to have been painted by da Vinci between 1501 and 1510, the picture was commissioned by Florimond Robertet, secretary to Louis XII of France.

It was bought in Italy in the 18th century by the third Duke of Buccleuch. But after more than 250 years, the family’s stewardship of the artwork came to an abrupt end on August 27, 2003.

Shortly after 11am that day, two men posing as tourists snatched the £30 million masterpiece from a wall at Drumlanrig Castle and, with the alarm ringing in their ears, made their getaway in a battered Volkswagen Golf.

Masterpiece: Leonardo <span class=da Vinci's Madonna Of The Yarnwinder, which believed to have been painted in 1501" class="blkBorder" height="379" width="306">

Masterpiece: Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna Of The Yarnwinder, which believed to have been painted in 1501

The theft sparked a worldwide search, with the FBI putting the painting on its list of the ten most wanted pieces of stolen artwork.

Nothing was heard of it until four years later when Graham and Doyle first heard of its existence.

Nicknamed the Silver Fox because of his shock of grey hair, Graham, now 59, owned several pubs in Liverpool and ran the Crown Private Investigations detective agency with Doyle.

As AN offshoot, they set up the website Stolen Stuff Reunited, an online message-board aimed at returning items to their owners for a reward or finder’s fee.

‘It was designed for little things of sentimental value to the people they were taken from, but that were of no use to thieves,’ says Graham. ‘We never dreamed of something like the da Vinci coming along.’

Graham had sunk £30,000 into the website venture, but it was struggling. So, the friends were excited when they learned of what seemed to be an extraordinary opportunity.

One night, Doyle, now 62, was approached in a pub by a man called ‘J’, who had received information from a man known only as Frank.

The word in the Liverpool underworld was that a businessman had been given the stolen painting as security on a £700,000 property deal that had subsequently collapsed.

Nearly three-quarters of a million pounds out of pocket, he had let it be known in certain circles on Merseyside that he would return the painting to its rightful owner in exchange for that amount.

Graham and Doyle saw their opportunity and decided they should be the ones to organise its recovery. ‘We just thought it would be the best advert for our website,’ says Graham. ‘If you could get a da Vinci back, you could get anything back.’

Unsure of the legal issues involved, they consulted local solicitor Marshall Ronald, who contacted a law firm in Glasgow on their behalf.

‘We were completely up front and open from the word go and asked for legal advice every step of the way because we knew we were in a grey area,’ says Doyle.

At the suggestion of the Scottish lawyers, an email was sent to a loss adjuster for the duke’s insurance company. He passed them on to a man called John Craig, who claimed to be representing the Duke. But, as they would later discover, he was far from what he seemed.

Stolen: The painting was originally taken from <span class=Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway in August 2003" class="blkBorder" height="325" width="634">

Stolen: The painting was originally taken from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries and Galloway in August 2003

Craig agreed a reward fee of £2 million. Of this, £700,000 would go to the man in possession of the painting and the rest would be divided between Ronald, Graham and Doyle, and the go-betweens Frank and J.

The first step was for those holding the painting to prove it was the real thing — so, they produced a ‘proof of life’ video of the kind more usually associated with kidnappings.

‘They filmed the painting laying on a bed with that day’s newspaper next to it,’ says Graham.

‘Then a man’s hand appeared and turned it over to show all the markings and writing on the back, which proved it was genuine.’

It was encouraging to know the Madonna was still in one piece but, sadly, the duke would not live to see the return of the painting that meant so much to him — he died after a short illness in September 2007.

Graham and Doyle were told the retrieval should still go ahead. All they needed was the cash to pay the holder of the painting. This was provided by Ronald, who told them he had borrowed it from a friend.

So it was that one of the most unlikely transactions the art world has ever known unfolded.

On October 3, 2007, with several plastic bags of banknotes stuffed in the boot of his S-type Jaguar, Graham drove to the car park of a Merseyside pub, where he gave the cash to the go-betweens.

‘I didn’t know who these people really were and I didn’t want to know,’ he says. ‘If they had tried to tell me, I wouldn’t have listened. I wasn’t there to catch criminals; I was there to get the painting back.’

Reunited: The pair hold a replica at the painting. They agreed to act as a go between in order to get the painting back from a criminal on <span class=Merseyside and return it to its rightful owner" class="blkBorder" height="701" width="634">

Reunited: The pair hold a replica at the painting. They agreed to act as a go between in order to get the painting back from a criminal on Merseyside and return it to its rightful owner

Four hours later, once the go-betweens had examined the money for tracking devices and to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit, Graham and Doyle met them in another car park, where the painting was handed over in a large pink box.

After checking it was, indeed, the Madonna, the pair wrapped it in protective acid-free tissue paper provided by Ronald, put it in a port-folio case and placed it on the back seat of the Jaguar.

‘It was unbelievable to think we had a Leonardo in the car,’ says Graham. ‘I rang Marshall Ronald and said: “The lady is on her way.” ’

They were due to deliver the painting that evening to the offices of the Glasgow lawyers who had advised them on how to proceed, but a heavy rainstorm forced them to abandon their journey just outside Dumfries, 80 miles short of their destination.

Tragic: The 9<span class=th Duke of Buccleuch, who owned the home where the painting hung, died one month before it was discovered" class="blkBorder" height="423" width="306">

Tragic: The 9th Duke of Buccleuch, who owned the home where the painting hung, died one month before it was discovered

And so they stayed overnight at that country hotel, with the painting perched on a dresser.

‘It was a weird night,’ says Graham. ‘We went through every emotion. We got a bit scared, we even got a bit religious, because it’s a religious painting, isn’t it? We didn’t really sleep at all.’

The next morning, with Graham wearing his lucky tie and the Madonna once again on the back seat of the Jaguar, the two men finally reached the Glasgow law firm and handed over their prize to the late Duke’s representative, John Craig.

But far from receiving their invitation to a grand re-hanging ceremony at Drumlanrig Castle as they had been promised, they were in for a shock. Within minutes, the room was full of policemen.

Graham and Doyle were handcuffed and taken into custody. They soon discovered why.

Far from looking out for their interests, Ronald, who was also arrested, had become obsessed by the fortune he believed he could make from what he referred to as the ‘art project’. As was later revealed in court, unbeknown to Graham and Doyle, he had negotiated himself a secret extra payment of £2.5 million — or so he thought.

In fact, John Craig was an undercover policeman who had recorded conversations in which Ronald described the underworld figures they were dealing with as ‘volatile people’ who might ‘do something very silly’ if the painting was left in their hands.

By saying this, he was perceived to be in some way threatening the duke’s family that the Madonna would be destroyed if millions weren’t paid for its return.

Thus he laid not only himself but Graham and Doyle open to charges of extortion.

It took two-and-a-half years for the case to come to court, during which time Graham and Doyle’s businesses were seriously disrupted and their debts mounted.

And during the eight-week trial, which began in March 2010, Doyle’s elder brother Joe and Graham’s wife Susan passed away.

‘My wife died not knowing if I was found guilty or not guilty,’ says Graham.

Investigation: Robbie and John were both arrested by officers after the exchanged and charged with extortion. They were later found not guilty after an eight-week trial

Investigation: Robbie and John were both arrested by officers after the exchanged and charged with extortion. They were later found not guilty after an eight-week trial

‘When we got the painting, it had been wrapped in a white sheet that had all the indentations and markings from the frame on it. I kept that in the car and when my wife was cremated I put it in the coffin with her. I thought it might get her a few brownie points with the big fella.’

Back in court, the case hinged on whether ‘John Craig’ had infiltrated an existing conspiracy or led them into a trap.

And while the police had taped conversations they believed suggested there had been a conspiracy, Graham had recorded a meeting in which Craig assured them about the legitimacy of the operation.

At the end of the trial, the jury found in their favour: Graham, Doyle and Ronald were cleared. In court, however, it was revealed that far from borrowing the money needed to pay off the man who had the painting, Ronald had taken it from his law firm’s client account.

He was subsequently struck off for doing so.

‘He was guilty of being a very greedy man,’ says Graham.

The two private detectives continue to insist they are entitled to a reward for recovering the painting and have offered to take lie-detector tests to remove any doubts the current duke might have about their entitlement to it.

Asked about this last week, a spokesman for the Buccleuch estate declined to comment.

Graham has been talking to a scriptwriter about the possibility of a TV drama based on their story. And remarkably, for all the trouble she brought them, he is hoping to renew his acquaintance with the Madonna.

Since the pair were not invited to the opening of the London exhibition earlier this month, and the advance tickets have sold out, that is unlikely to happen any time soon.

‘I would like to have gone and seen it again,’ says Graham. ‘After all, we did spend the night together.’

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Albuquerque NM, Hot Art Handler Busted


$80,000 of stolen loot found in store

Owner arrested, more arrests could be coming

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Pawn shops and flea markets have reputations for selling stolen goods, but an antique shop? Deputies raided one Tuesday, and they said the shelves were filled stolen stuff from people's homes, including art work.

Investigators said the owner knew his merchandise was stolen and now he is in jail.

“We are estimating over $80,000 worth of property,” Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Lt. Adan Mendoza said.

Investigators pulled stolen items out of the antique store in Santa Fe; same with the thrift store two doors down.

“During the search we discovered several items to include electronics, artwork, jewelry, and some of those items were tied to several burglaries,” said Mendoza.

Four bronze statues found inside are worth $64,000 alone.

Investigators with a newly formed burglary task force had been watching the stores for weeks, and saw some well-known thieves peddling loot inside.

Even though they moved in as quick as they could, Lt. Mendoza said, “I think there is a lot of property that has gone in and out of that business that has been sold or transported to other locations that we may never track down.”

The owner of the two stores, Clarence Catanach, 62, is in jail tonight for taking in and reselling the stolen items.

Investigators said it will take them some time to sort though the stuff. They may even have a viewing for burglary victims to see if any of the items are theirs.

Catanach also owns the shopping center where the businesses were located. They are also investigating to see if he is misusing his business permit.

Investigators expect to make more arrests once they nail down which items are linked to which burglaries.




Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Dead Don Don't Tell Tales !!


Death of Don Rasch, Convicted Art Thief, Considered "Suspicious"

http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2011/11/don_rasch_death_art_thief_slavin_kodner_valier.php

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's article on the death of convicted art thief Don Rasch duly notes that he was found unconscious at his Maplewood home on November 12, and ended up dying on November 16, all of which authorities deem "suspicious," because:

There were no signs of a break-in or struggle inside his home. Rasch also did not have any outward signs of injury....An autopsy was inconclusive, so the St. Louis County medical examiner's office is conducting additional testing, including toxicological exams....[a detective says] suicide was "possible, but not probable."

The PD doesn't make much mention, however, of his dramatic backstory laid out in a 2005 RFT feature by our former staff writer, Kristen Hinman: That Rasch and a well-heeled associate, Biron Valier III, teamed up in the early aughts to steal and resell $4 million in fine art.
Each man got convicted in federal court and did prison time.

One of the collectors who unwittingly bought the "hot" paintings from Rasch was real-estate mogul and Ladue art collector, Stuart Slavin, who later sued Rasch in state court. Court records suggest Slavin's claim was settled in 2008. A call to Slavin's attorney, Duane Lee Coleman, was not immediately returned.

Rasch also sold some of the stolen art to brothers David and Jonathan Kodner, inheritors of the Kodner Gallery. The Kodners then in turn sold the art to other buyers, exposing them to liability.

When the heist became clear, the Kodners did not sue Rasch, according to their attorney, Al Watkins. They did reach into their own pockets for $1 million to make their own clients whole again, Watkins adds.

Here's an excerpt from our feature that fleshes out Rasch's past:

"I grew up poor in East St. Louis," reflects the 44-year-old Rasch, a short, skinny chap with jet-black hair and arresting aquamarine eyes. "My father was a cop, and my mother worked in cosmetics at the Famous-Barr in downtown St. Louis."

"During the weekends my father worked three jobs, one as a security guard at a warehouse behind the Science Center," Rasch goes on. "I would watch the lot while he slept. I had a .38 on me, and a security guard's outfit, and our German shepherd, King, stayed with me. I was ten, and we busted a couple guys."

Rasch says his father would have loved him to be a cop, but Rasch had other ideas. "I wanted to be a zoologist," he says. As far as becoming an artist, "I had no choice. It just happened."

Long known in the local art world as "Downtown Don," an aging "loft rat" who squatted in spaces that doubled as his studio, Rasch has yet to make a buck from his paintings.

"One time we found a hole in the wall next to his door," recalls an ex-landlord, Stanley Palmer. "He must have locked himself out, and smashed a hole through the drywall to get back in. We had reason to look inside, and the place was a wreck. Garbage, beer cans, food debris -- you name it."

"Don was a slob," seconds Ellsworth Lank, Rasch's former employer at Fine Arts Express, a high-end art-transport and -storage company. "And he had an attitude problem, a chip on his shoulder, [thought] that he was smarter than anybody."

Lank and others say alcohol accounted for much of Rasch's problem. "I am a drunk," Rasch admits. "But people who really know me, like me."

Many refer to Rasch as a personable, charismatic guy, though they concede that they never reallyknew when he was telling the truth. "He had a history of saying things, not as they are, but as he'd like them to be," says Palmer.

Rasch boasted wildly of his military prowess and recently told acquaintances that he was shipping off to fight in Iraq. (He says he served in the Illinois National Guard in the 1980s.)

As for the heist in which he played a major role, Rasch gave this memorable quote:

"I got to make love to my woman under a Willem de Kooning nude," crows Donald Rasch on a recent October morning, proud of the stolen painting of a corpulent maiden that hung over his bed.

"Having this stuff in my life for just the amount of time that I did is probably worth the time that I'm going to be serving," he reasons. "Yes, I think so."

Stolen Art Watch, Art Crime America Finally Filling Column Inches




2 men here plead guilty in looting of $4 million in artworks

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/men-here-plead-guilty-in-looting-of-million-in-artworks/article_6200707c-1513-11e1-9505-0019bb30f31a.html

ST. LOUIS • Two men have pleaded guilty in St. Louis of stealing paintings and other works of art estimated to be worth $4 million. They included works by masters such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Salvador Dali.

The two men are former employees of an art shipping company in Bridgeton. They looted more than 130 pieces of art in 2002 from the company's offices, authorities said Thursday.

Biron A. Valier, 36, of Ramblewood Lane in Creve Coeur, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to one count of conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce. Donald R. Rasch, 44, of the 1400 block of Quendo Avenue in University City, pleaded guilty to the same charge Aug. 25.

In a somewhat odd twist, the art, which belonged to a Florida couple, had been sitting in storage at the office of Fine Arts Express in Bridgeton since about 1994 until the time the two men stole it, according to U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway.

The art's owners, Dr. David Harter and his wife, Dianne Harter, had moved from Nebraska to Arizona, then again to Florida, and the art was the couple's "nest egg," Hanaway said.

There are other unanswered questions about the affair. Authorities declined to discuss the art collectors and galleries that acquired the art and later played a role in disclosing the theft, although some of them are identified in public records.

What's more, some 45 pieces of stolen art, with a value of several hundred thousand dollars, have not been recovered, said FBI agent Frank Brostrom.

Even so, authorities touted the investigation as a success, noting that a special FBI unit created last year, the FBI rapid deployment Art Crime Team, had played a role in recovering the stolen works.

Hanaway said the FBI and the Bridgeton Police Department cooperated in the investigation, and they "pursued this case all the way to Japan to recover some of this art."

One painting that was recovered, a work by Mark Rothko valued at more than $1 million, was located in Japan, Hanaway said. Others were recovered in New York and San Francisco. Another work, by Willem de Kooning, was valued at more than $800,000, she said.

The theft was discovered after a man bought eight of the pieces from Rasch, said Bridgeton police Detective Lance Harris. The buyer then tried to verify the ownership of the art, and located the real owners, the Harters, Harris said.

The Harters hired a private detective, who contacted authorities, Harris said. Rasch and Valier ultimately cooperated in the recovery of the art.

A Ladue real estate investor, Stuart Slavin, said he was the collector who bought the paintings from Rasch and discovered they belonged to the Harters. Slavin said Rasch, whom he met through a former employee of Slavin's business, initially told him he had inherited the paintings from his grandfather.

Slavin said he checked a registry to find out whether the art was stolen or lost, and found no record. But he said he later became suspicious and made more checks when he bought the last of the eight paintings he acquired from Rasch. Slavin said he contacted a New York art gallery owner, who said the painting belonged to David Harter.

Slavin said that when he confronted Rasch with the new information, Rasch changed his story, saying he had recovered the paintings from a trash bin at Fine Arts Express, where he formerly worked. Rasch said the owners of Fine Art Express had told him to throw away property belonging to people who were behind in their storage bill payments.

Slavin said he then had his attorney contact Harter, and Harter claimed he suspected his wife had failed to make payments for the storage locker.

The Harters could not be reached for comment.

Slavin said that the eight paintings, which he and a friend bought from Rasch for about $80,000, are likely worth far more. He said one art specialist from the Christie's auction house estimated one of the paintings -- a de Kooning on display in the FBI offices Thursday -- is worth about $300,000. He dismissed the assertion it was worth as much as $800,000.

Slavin has filed a suit claiming that he is the rightful owner of the paintings. But now that Rasch and Valier have pleaded guilty of stealing the paintings, he will likely be unable to prove he is their rightful owner, Slavin said glumly.

"If they're stolen, it may be difficult to get them," he said.

Slavin said he has been collecting art for 35 years. "I've never run into anything like this before. I'm very careful about what I buy, but after 35 years it caught up with me."

Rasch, an artist, has cooperated with authorities to help to recover the art, his attorney, John Rogers, said. Valier and his attorney could not be reached for comment. Slavin is not the only one to suffer from dealing with Valier and Rasch. The Kodner Gallery of Ladue has sued Valier and his wife, Julie Valier, claiming it bought eight paintings -- including one by Rothko -- for a total of $366,682.50 in 2003. The suit, filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court, says Kodner then sold the art to customers, including other art dealers.

Kodner's attoney, Albert Watkins, said Valier claimed that the paintings came to him through his family.

Later, Kodner was contacted by law enforcement officers who informed the gallery that the art was stolen. The suit claims the Valiers committed fraud by claiming the pieces belonged to them. It also seeks return of the money paid for the paintings as well as $1.5 million in damages for costs Kodner incurred, such as paying settlements to art dealers.

"You've got to stand behind your artwork, and Kodner always has, always will," Watkins said.

As for the theft, he said, "The entire art world despises this type of thing happening."

Federal judge tosses book at art swindler Thomas Doyle with six-year sentence

Doyle stole Corot's famed "Portrait of a Girl"

An angry art-loving judge on Monday threw the book at the career con man whose exploits ended with a delicate portrait by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot dumped in some Upper East Side bushes.

"This man has been on a non-stop crime spree since he has been 20-years-old," said Manhattan Federal Court Judge Colleen McMahon at she sentenced art swindler Thomas Doyle to six years in prison.

Doyle had agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a three-year prison sentence, but McMahon said that was "manifestly insufficient."

It was a rare instance of a judge ignoring federal sentencing guidelines to mete out a tougher sentence.

Doyle, 54, had pleaded guilty to scamming an investor by overvaluing Corot’s 19th-Century "Portrait of a Girl," saying it was worth $1.1 million when Doyle actually bought it for $775,000.

"Your honor, it started off honestly and then went wrong," Doyle told the judge.

"You don't know the meaning of the word ‘honest’," McMahon shot back.

The judge, who noted during the sentencing that her favorite painting in the world was Corot's "The Lake," also ordered Doyle to repay the investor $880,000 - the amount he paid for the 80% of the painting, fooled into expecting they would sell it for twice that.

Appraisers say the painting is actually worth about $500,000 or $600,000.

It will be put up for auction with the proceeds going towards restitution for the unnamed investor.

The scam unraveled last year when Doyle's girlfriend sued a courier who said he lost the painting in a drunken bender after showing it to a potential buyer at the The Mark Hotel on the Upper East Side.

That prompted the FBI to investigate. The courier turned out to be a buddy of Doyle's.

A Fifth Ave. doorman found the painting dumped in the bushes across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Doyle has spent time in prison for stealing a bronze Degas sculpture by posing as a member of an art-collecting family, pilfering books from the art library at the University of Kansas, and filching jewelry from a Tennessee woman.

Man Damages $30K in Antiques, Leaves in Victim's Clothes

http://www.wkbn.com/content/news/local/story/Man-Damages-30K-in-Antiques-Leaves-in-Victims/MT0Vtg0sd02TGPgorRwsqA.cspx

A New Castle man is accused of causing $30,000 in damages to several antiques at a Shenango Township home before leaving in the victim's clothes and shoes and being caught breaking into another home on the same road.

Eugene Courson, 30, is in Lawrence County Jail in lieu of $10,000 bond.

According to reports, just before 11:30 p.m. Wednesday police responded to a report of a white male entering a home on Alborn Avenue. The residents said they heard a noise and awoke to find the man standing in their laundry room before he fled on foot. Courson was located a short distance away and arrested.

Just a few hours later, police responded to another home on Alborn Avenue at about 1:20 a.m. Thursday. The resident had discovered nearly $30,000 in damages to the house and its contents. Reports state the suspect damaged numerous antiques, including paintings that were 100 years old, antique Tiffany light fixtures, antique vases and lightening rods.

The suspect had left his cell phone behind and police determined it belonged to Coursen, whose clothes were located at the scene.

Courson faces charges of criminal trespassing, burglary, theft and criminal mischief.

Jail for woman who stole $1M from Mark Twain House

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20111122/us-mark-twain-house-embezzlement/
November 22, 2011

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — A woman has been sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for embezzling more than $1 million from the Mark Twain House and Museum, a crime that added to the financial woes of the Hartford landmark that had been struggling to pay its bills.

Donna Gregor, a 58-year-old longtime museum employee, stole the money between 2002 and 2010. She faced up to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty in August to wire fraud and filing a false tax return.

The officials who run the gingerbread Gothic home on Farmington Avenue said they were happy to put the case behind them.

"We are grateful that the case involving the theft of funds from the Mark Twain House and Museum has been resolved and justice has been served," the museum said on its website. "We want to assure our friends that stringent controls are in place and our financial condition is sound and we thank them for their continued interest and support."

The thefts occurred during a time when the Twain House was in dire financial straits, trying to repay millions in bank loans from expansions and struggling to meet its yearly budget.

In 2008, it even cut two-thirds of its staff and made other reductions, but had barely enough money to pay three weeks' worth of bills before publicity generated a spate of donations.

The author and humorist built the house in 1874 and wrote many of his best known works during the 17 years that he lived there, including "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and its sequel, "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Struggling with debt, Twain had to sell the home in 1903. The building was rescued from demolition in 1927 and is now a prime tourist attraction in Connecticut's capital city.

In addition to her jail sentence, Gregor was ordered by a U.S. district judge in Bridgeport on Monday to pay restitution to the Mark Twain House. After serving her prison sentence she also faces three years of supervised release.

Authorities say Gregor submitted false information via the Internet to the museum's payroll management vendor to get more pay than she was entitled to and used the museum's check-writing system to write checks payable to herself and forged the signatures of her supervisors on those checks.

Prosecutors said she used the proceeds of her theft for home improvements, theater tickets, dining out, mortgage payments, credit card payments and car payments.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Stolen Art Watch, Authorities Playing Catch Up !!



Scrap metals theft Bill may take in gold and silver
21 November 2011

http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/8080.aspx
THE days of informal scrapping of precious metals such as gold and silver could well be numbered after a new Bill was put before Parliament on November 15 to tackle theft.

The Bill has been drawn up in response to the rising tide of thefts from the railways of copper wire and other metal cabling, which has caused havoc with train timetables; from churches and other buildings of lead roofs, pipework and tiling; and, most recently, of bronze and other metals from public memorials, notably to the War dead, which has caused a particular outcry around Remembrance Day.

However, the provisions of the Bill as set out before parliament leave it open to encompass precious metals, and the sponsoring MP Graham Jones has confirmed to ATG that gold and silver would certainly be debated with a view to possible inclusion.

The soaring price for silver has certainly contributed to a rise in thefts for scrap, an issue Mr Jones says he is aware of.

"The intention is to uphold the law, that is what is important," he said.

Mr Jones has asked the House of Commons for leave to introduce the Metal Theft Prevention Bill, and wants it to include:

• a licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers;

• powers for magistrates to restrict licensing;

• a requirement that trade in scrap metal be restricted to cashless payments, so that transactions can be traced back to their origins;

• new powers for police to search properties owned by scrap metal dealerships;

• a provision that scrap metal proven to have been obtained through theft be classified as criminal assets;

• new criminal charges for theft of scrap metal, which take account of aspects of the crime perpetrated beyond the value of the scrap metal stolen, and for connected purposes.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which backs the proposals, wants even tighter controls, calling for CCTV with automatic number plate recognition in scrapyards as well as making it compulsory for scrap dealers to keep a detailed log of people who they buy metal from.

The Bill enjoyed cross-party support when it was introduced in the House of Commons and will now be drafted before returning on January 20 for further consideration. If all goes according to plan, Parliament expects it to be on the Statute Book before the end of the summer.

The inclusion of the cashless payments clause would certainly cause problems for those who wish to dispose of gold and silver honestly but discreetly, although the compulsory introduction of sales records may prove more acceptable.

In September he told the House of Commons that in 2009 there had been about 100 reported metal thefts per month according to the Energy Networks Association, which represents the electricity and gas network and utility companies. In 2011, that figure has risen to 700 thefts per month, and in one calendar month – March this year – it rose to a record 900 reported thefts.

By Ivan Macquisten

How the industry went online to beat robbers and fraudsters
21 November 2011

http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/8075.aspx
TWO years since it launched, the jewellery trade’s anti-crime alert network, SaferGems, has been helping to forge stronger links between the UK’s 43 different police forces.

And the organisation, who also cater for fine art and antiques, have been instrumental in the resolution of at least 14 major crimes as well as helping to prevent countless others.

Now they have announced that the British Jewellers' Association have signed up as co-funding partners, helping to widen the network further. In addition, there are a number of chain multiples who have become members, and Christie's are associates.

Set up as a joint initiative between the National Association of Goldsmiths (NAG) and specialist insurer T.H. March to tackle the rising level of robberies, fraud and distraction thefts perpetrated on jewellers and precious metal dealers, the web-based information hub is modelled on an earlier initiative set up by the Cash and Valuables in Transit scheme.

SaferGems gathers information from across the UK on criminals and incidents and sends out email alerts on them to members. The alerts can include everything from rogues gallery pictures of suspects in action to information on criminals' modus operandi, and even the cars and vans they drive.

The service also provides details of suspicious behaviour.

Reports are processed along police guidelines so that forces across the country can use them immediately in ongoing investigations.

Information can be processed from anywhere in the UK and disseminated via the internet within a day. This is particularly important because gangs tend to avoid detection by hitting one end of the country one day and striking hundreds of miles away the next, so it could be Glasgow on Monday and Brighton on Tuesday.

All T.H. March clients automatically become members of SaferGems to receive alerts at no direct cost to themselves, while at least 50 per cent of all NAG members have also signed up.

Information can be submitted to the database by anyone, not just members.

Michael Hoare, chief executive of the NAG, explained how SaferGems was established early in 2009 after they became aware of a rapidly increasing incidence of attacks on members.

Initial research made it clear that cross-border communication between many of the country's police forces was not what it could have been, said Mr Hoare, with the result that investigation teams in one force would often miss links with ongoing investigations in others.

SaferGems has gone some way to improving these links, with reports by January 2010 on 118 forced burglaries, 314 robberies, 482 pilferage distraction crimes, 53 credit card frauds and more than 150 incidents of suspicious activity.

There has also been co-operation with European law enforcement agencies on at least two investigations that have led to arrests.

"We wanted to combat the rise in crime, and especially to reduce the attacks on jewellers travelling with stock," said T.H. March sales director Neil McFarlane.

"This is as much about crime prevention as catching the criminals."

SaferGems work closely with the Flying Squad and other members of the police and spend a lot of time reviewing procedures to make the system more effective.

"We talk to the different forces every day and hold round-table discussions to see what we can do next," revealed Mr Hoare.
And Mr McFarlane added: "As traditional robbery targets, such as banks, have become harder to attack, criminals have turned their attention to more vulnerable targets, such as jewellers in transit. Add to that the soaring prices in precious metals, and they become even more attractive targets."

The lack of regulation in the precious metals trade makes it easy to dispose of stolen goods, they also argued, with items being melted down within hours of being taken. With all this in mind, the SaferGems initiative could hardly have been more timely and its mentors are keen to roll it out to the industry as a whole.

More details at www.SaferGems.org.uk

By Ivan Macquisten

Two years in, SaferGems have already made a difference
21 November 2011

http://www.antiquestradegazette.com/news/8074.aspx
ONE SaferGems alert featured two men wanted in connection with a jewellery theft at a discount jewellery shop in Spring Bank, Hull. During the incident one offender distracted the jeweller while the other stole jewellery to the value of £2300.

The alert generated a call from a SaferGems susbcriber who said they had seen previous alerts concerning the men concerning similar thefts around the country. Apparently they were wanted in the Thames Valley, North Yorkshire, Tayside, Kent, Staffordshire and South Wales police areas.

SaferGems forwarded all the relevant details to Humberside Police who confirmed the incidents seemed to be linked.

Soon after a similar offence occurred in the Lothian and Borders Police area, which led to the arrest of a 33-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy. They were both charged for the offence and appeared at Peebles Sheriff's Magistrates Court, where they were released on bail and told to report to police each Wednesday in the West Midlands.

Details of the case were passed to SaferGems who shared this update with Humberside Police and enquiries were completed which led to the pair being arrested once more when they answered bail.

Further enquiries with SaferGems resulted in paperwork for further offences in South Wales and Nottinghamshire being passed to Humberside Police. The pair were again charged with new offences, to some of which they have since pleaded guilty.

Detective Sergeant John Fuller from Humberside Police said: "The information and assistance given by SaferGems was invaluable and contributed to not only the identification of the men for their involvement with the Hull theft but also other linked offences. Ultimately, without the support of SaferGems it would have taken a great deal of time to identify these men and bring them to justice."