Belgian, French and Swiss police conducted a series of raids and arrested 31 suspects in connection with February's major diamond robbery from a plane set to leave Brussels Airport.
Belgian prosecutor Anja Bijnens said at a news conference that one person was arrested in France, six in Switzerland and a further 24 in Belgium.
A suspected member of the eight-man gang, who posed as armed police and seized the stones from a cargo plane on the runway, was picked up in France on Tuesday. This was apparently the catalyst for further mobilization.
"The probe led to a big police operation yesterday," a spokesman for the Brussels prosecutor's office, Jean-Marc Meilleur, said on Wednesday. Subsequent early morning raids involved more than 200 Belgian police officers and "recovered big amounts of cash," he said.
His colleague Bijnens said that as well as the seizure of currency in Belgium, some of the diamonds were recovered in Switzerland, neither of them went into detail on the amounts.
The Antwerp World Diamond Center had estimated the value of the gems stolen on February 18 at $50 million (38.1 million euros). The northern Belgian city of Antwerp is one of the world's key diamond hubs.
The group of eight men had cut a hole in a fence at the Zavantem airport in Brussels. They drove through in imitation police vehicles with flashing sirens and themselves wore mock police uniforms and masks. The armed men then snatched 120 parcels from a diamond shipment that was being loaded from a security truck onto a plane bound for Switzerland.
The apparently professional band made it in and out within minutes and never fired a shot.
Prosecutor Meilleur said the man initially arrested in France was thought to be among the airport robbers.
"This person has a very heavy judicial background in France and his extradition to Belgium has been requested, Meilleur said.
msh/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Exclusive: Britain's largest seize of stolen artifacts since Egypt's revolution
British police arrest a UK-based businessman on suspicion of looting Egyptian antiquities.
The Scotland Yard's Art & Antiquities Squad (AAS) made the arrest on Friday, 3 May when international arts auction house, Christie's, reported that it had identified some antiquities which are almost certainly stolen from Egypt recently.
This is one of the biggest operations of its kind since the Egyptian revolution exploded in 2011, well-informed sources confirm to Ahram Online.
Christie's experts, the British museum's Egyptology department, the Egyptian embassy in London and the Art Loss Register worked closely for weeks to identify six stolen objects. The AAS is now trying to determine how these objects left Egypt, how the seller came to possess them and who his accomplices are.
Ahram Online understands that the seller (now in custody) claims he had inherited the Egyptian objects from his uncle.
He told the international auctioneer that his uncle served in Egypt during WWII and stayed on for a few years before returning to the UK in the '50s.
These objects were due to be sold at a Christie's auction on 2 May in London.
"Christie's works closely with international authorities and organisations towards our shared objective of preventing the illicit trade in improperly exported or stolen works of art," Christie's Director of Communications Matthew Paton tells Ahram Online. Paton pledged extra vigilance considering Egyptian antiquities authorities' concerns after the 2011 revolution and also to do their utmost to get these objects back to Egypt.
He also emphasised that Christie's believes in strict internal policies to thoroughly research the provenance of any item consigned for sale.
The Egyptian Embassy in London confirmed to Ahram Online it is in constant contact with the Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities in order to file the proper documents to repatriate the stolen antiquities.
One of the stolen objects is a recent find from Amenhotep III in Western Thebes. Made of Egyptian red granite, the relief fragment depicts a Nubian prisoner, facing right, with short hair and wearing heavy hooped earrings and a collar necklace (1550 - 1069 BC).
Another is an Egyptian painted limestone relief fragment depicting a male figure with his head facing left. Experts say it is very likely to have originated from a recently-rediscovered and excavated tomb, again in Thebes.
Egyptian Ambassador to the UK Ashraf El-kholy praised Christie's vigilance and willingness to investigate the provenance of the Egyptian objects.
"Without their support and cooperation, we would not have been able to spot and get these invaluable antiquities back," he told Ahram Online.
Operation 'to catch a thief’ catches art theft on video
Vega, from Eastern Pennsylvania, allegedly stole the paintings from a Kings Point, Long Island, estate that he was hired to paint and selling at least one of them. Then, he laundered the money he received by getting his ex-sister-in-law to cash the check in Brooklyn, according to the charges.
Vega was indicted in the Brooklyn case on charges of money laundering, identity theft and grand larceny. In Nassau County, Vega faces separate charges of grand larceny.
Hynes said, “The defendant tried to launder the proceeds from the stolen art in Brooklyn. Investigators were able to track down one of the works in an Oakland art gallery. It obviously raises a red flag when you are selling a $50,000 painting for less than $10,000.”
“The Schulhof Estate spent decades gathering and protecting hundreds of pieces of artwork, yet where others saw incredible beauty in these paintings, Joselito Vega only saw the opportunity to make a quick buck,” Rice said.
In March 2011, Vega was working for Zimmer Painting, Inc, and was assigned to a job at the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point. The Schulhof Collection includes more than 300 works of art. Approximately one year later, when the Schulhof Estate performed an inventory, they realized that three works were missing.
An investigation, dubbed Operation To Catch a Thief, found that one painting was given to the Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif., to sell. Throughout the interactions between the defendant and the art gallery, he used his ex-sister-in-law’s name without her knowledge, and had the check for the sale of the work addressed to her and sent to a private mailbox in Bay Ridge, according to the DA’s Office.
Further investigation revealed that the Bay Ridge mailbox belonged to Vega under the name Danny Vega.
Vega then asked his ex-sister-in-law to set up a bank account in her name so that she could cash the check for him. He used the excuse that he receives Social Security benefits and did not want to lose the benefits if the state found out that he received that sum of money.
Detectives from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office set up a sting operation to catch him in the act. On April 29, Vega was hired to do another job at the estate in Kings Point. Works of art were placed in the home, and hidden cameras were set up. Vega was caught on video taking three works, including a $10,000 Pablo Picasso etching, “Three Graces II.”
He was soon arrested by detective investigators. In total, the six paintings that Vega is alleged to have stolen are worth over $100,000.
Antiques worth £30,000 stolen from BirdlipPOLICE are urging collectors and traders to be on the lookout after antiques valued at £30,000 were stolen in an overnight burglary at a house in Birdlip.
The items, including a plate, two teapot creamers and sugar bowls, a toast rack, two holders and a ladle – all made from silver – were taken after the house was broken into between 11pm on April 25 and 8am the following day.
Once inside, the thieves also stole two Chinese figurines and a canteen of cutlery, along with a Sony laptop, a handbag and a wallet.
Antiques worth millions stolen from ex-ministerColombo: Robbers have stolen nearly Rs5.4million [Dh0.1million] worth 300-years-old wall clock and an antique oil lamp (6.5ft) also worth a few millions from the residence of former finance minister Ronie de Mel residence at Geekiyanakandawatte, Matara.
Police had found those expensive time piece and the lamp to be sold to a hardware shop for mere Rs 8,000.
Madonna sells Leger painting for $7.2m
According to Sotheby's, proceeds from the sale "will benefit Madonna's Ray of Light Foundation, supporting girls' education projects in the Middle East and South Asia".
"Thanks to everyone who helped make it happen!" said the pop star on Facebook.
Before Tuesday's sale, Madonna said she wanted "to trade something valuable for something invaluable - educating girls".
The sale formed part of a Sotheby's sale of Impressionist and modern art that took more than $230m (£148.6m).
Les Pommes, a still life from by French artist Paul Cezanne, fetched the highest price, selling for $41.6m (£26.9m).
L'Amazone, a portrait of French socialite Baroness Marguerite de Hasse de Villers by Amedeo Modigliani, went for $25.9m (£16.7m).
A Pablo Picasso sculpture of his young muse Sylvette, meanwhile, sold for $13.6m (£8.8m).
Overall the auction failed to live up to last year's event, which saw a version of Edvard Munch's The Scream sell for a world record $119.9m (£77.4m).
Cleaning lady pleads guilty in $3M Montco art theft
Andrea Lawton, 47, formerly of Philadelphia, entered an open guilty plea in Montgomery County Court to charges of theft and burglary. An open plea means there is no agreement on a sentence between the prosecution and the defense and that Lawton is essentially throwing herself on the mercy of the court.
Judge Carolyn T. Carluccio postponed sentencing until she can learn more about Lawton’s background.
Lawton and an accomplice she has repeatedly refused to name broke into a Lower Merion home in the 600 block of Black Rock Road, Lower Merion, on Aug. 24.
While Lawton waited outside in the car, she directed the accomplice to the 25-pound bust, one of only four created in 1778 by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon while Franklin was visiting Paris.
Lawton, who previously had performed cleaning services at the home, knew the bust was valuable because all members of the cleaning crews sent to the home by the service that had employed her were advised of its value, according to court documents.
Also missing from the home was a framed autograph picture of composer Victor Herbert that included one of his conductor batons and a handwritten listing of his compositions, according to court documents. Lawton has never admitted to the theft of this item, which has an estimated value of $80,000.
Lawton, who was nabbed by authorities on Sept. 21 on her way to sell the bust to an unknown party in Elkton, Md., said she stole the bust because she wanted to “get back” at the head of the cleaning service and “get her fired” because the agency head had fired Lawton, according to court documents.
“She broke a priceless piece of artwork that was made while Benjamin Franklin was still alive,” said county First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, who said he would be seeking a “significant” sentence for Lawton.
The bust, which its owner estimated had a value of at least $3 million, is now at a New York museum where work is under way to repair it, said Steele.
Two other reasons for seeking a stiff sentence, said Steele, are the second item still has not been recovered nor has Lawton named her accomplice.
Montgomery County Defense attorney Michael John said he will recommend that any county sentence his client receives be served concurrently with the federal sentence she is handed next month.
Lawton is facing a maximum 20-year federal sentence after pleading guilty in that court to transporting stolen artwork across state lines.
“This is all one event,” said John, adding that his client is remorseful for her actions and that the two guilty pleas reflect her willingness to take responsibility for her actions.